Research

Our group is interested in two materials: polymers and nanoparticles. Organic polymers, composed of earth-abundant elements, are low-cost and easily-processible materials that can be manufactured into a wide range of macro- and microscopic structures. Inorganic nanoparticles, on the other hand, have tremendously rich optical, magnetic, catalytic, and plasmonic properties. Separately, neither has been utilized to the full potential for energy applications. We envision that the two materials, if designed and engineered smartly, can be integrated together, resulting in unique collective emergent properties and impacting renewable energy and environmental sciences at a tremendous level.

The research theme in my group is to integrate these two materials, bridge their respective properties, and find potential solutions to the grand challenge of energy. Specifically, my group will design, synthesize, and utilize the two materials (namely, polymers as structural matrices and nanoparticles as functional units) to create nanocomposites and nanostructures for addressing challenges in energy, catalysis, and environmental science and engineering.

The following research projects give a survey of the expertise in our research group.

1. Nanocomposites of Polymers and Plasmonic Nanoparticles

Noble metal nanoparticles have great potential in a wide range of applications including sensing, catalysis, imaging, medical diagnostics, and therapeutics. We specialize in synthesis of nanoparticles of various shapes, sizes, and compositions. The nanoparticles exhibit exciting optical and plasmonic properties (see the figure below), which have been useful for probing polymer materials at the organic-inorganic interface. We aim to understand the sensitivities of these nanoparticles and provide insight into the design of polymer composites for energy and environment related applications, for example, light-actuated devices, hybrid solar cells, efficient light absorbers, and chemical sensors for toxic molecules.

Publications:

  1. JACS, 135(33), 12196-12199 (2013);
  2. J. Phys. Chem. C, 120(34), 19353–19364 (2016);
  3. Analytical Chemistry, 89 (14), 7541-7548 (2017);
  4. Advanced Optical Materials, 1700367, (2017);
  5. Small, 1701715 (2017).
  6. Patents: US Provisional 62/448,581

2. Block Copolymers for Energy and Environmental Sciences

Carbon fiber is an important low-density material that has outstanding mechanical strength, electric conductivity, fire resistance, high chemical resistance, high operational temperature tolerance, low coefficient of thermal expansion, and excellent electromagnetic interference shielding properties. Porous carbon fibers that span the pore size across micro-, meso-, and macro- length scales are crucial for a wide range of applications including catalysis, energy conversion and storage. We specialize in the synthesis and processing of advanced polyacrylonitrile-containing block copolymers with well-defined mesoporous structures for energy-related applications including fuel cells, batteries, supercapacitors, and separation and filtration.

Publications:

Small, 2016, 1603107.

Molecular Systems Design & Engineering, 2018, 3, 357-363. [doi: 10.1039/C7ME00122C]

Patents: US Provisional 62/465,867

3. High-Performance Polyetherimides

Polyetherimides (PEIs) are high-temperature engineering thermoplastics with outstanding mechanical properties, thermal stability, and chemical resistance. For example, PEIs won't degrade up to 500 ˚C and have GPa Young's moduli that are comparable to metals. Due to the excellent properties, PEIs are widely used as matrix resins, adhesives, and coatings in fields such as aerospace and microelectronics. In our group, we specialize in the synthesis of high-temperature and high-mechanical-strength polyimides. In the current projects, we aim to improve their synthesis methods, processing conditions, and the resulting properties.

Publications:

Macromolecules, 2017, 50 (5), 2016–2023

Macromolecular Rapid Communications, 2018, 1800045.

Patents: Patent filed with SABIC, pending.