Resnick Institute

Research Highlights by the Resnick Fellows

Summer 2016

Samantha I. Johnson

Mechanisms and Surface Attachment of Molecular Solar Fuels Catalysts

We would like to mimic plants’ ability to store energy in chemical bonds, but rather than making sugars, we would like to produce a fuel like hydrogen or liquid carbon-based fuels like gasoline. To make these fuels, a molecule called a catalyst is needed to bring down the amount of energy required to make the fuel. I use computational chemistry to look at the steps these catalysts complete in order to make fuel molecules.

Read Highlight

Winter 2016

Niklas Thompson

Toward Sustainable Nitrogen Fixation: Elucidating the Mechanism of Nitrogen Reduction by Molecular Catalysts

The maintenance of global health is intimately linked with technologies for the reduction—or “fixation”—of dinitrogen (N2) to ammonia (NH3) for the purpose of fertilizer production. However industrial fertilizer production depends on a nitrogen fixation process that requires enormous energy and natural gas inputs, and results in severe environmental pollution. If we can understand the molecular basis of biological nitrogen fixation, synthetic catalysts may be developed that couple artificial photosynthesis schemes to the reduction of dinitrogen. This project constitutes an important first step in the rational design of a sustainable nitrogen fixation process.

Read Highlight

Winter 2016

Christoper Prier, PhD

Cytochrome P450-Catalyzed Nitrene Transfer: A Platform for Green Amination Chemistry

Enzymes (nature’s catalysts) have evolved over millennia into extremely efficient catalysts for their given natural functions. Although we might wish to use enzymes for our own purposes in the production of valuable chemicals, our needs often differ greatly from those of nature – in particular, for many of the reactions we desire, no natural enzymes exist. Expanding the utility of biocatalysis thus requires developing new enzymes having functions that are absent from nature’s catalytic repertoire. We have engineered cytochrome P450s (iron heme-dependent enzymes found in all kingdoms of life) to perform nitrene transfer, a class of reactions that introduce nitrogen into organic substrates.

Read Highlight

Winter 2016

Moureen Kemei, PhD

Developing efficient cathode materials for solid oxide fuel cells

The goal of this project is to develop design strategies for cathode materials with high ionic and electronic conductivity at moderate temperatures. By understanding the physics of x-ray absorption, local and average coordination chemistry and the materials properties of SrCo0.9Nb0.1O3-∂, we develop general guidelines for improving solid oxide cathode performance at intermediate temperatures.

Read Highlight

Spring 2015

Jackson Cahn

Better Enzymes for Biofuels and Green Chemistry: Solving the Cofactor Imbalance Problem

This project represents the first attempt to provide a general solution to a recurring protein engineering challenge. If successful, this research would significantly accelerate the process of optimizing the function of newly designed biosynthetic pathways, speeding the transition between the lab and the marketplace. It would also provide a model for the development of further semi-rational protein engineering approaches to drive industrial biocatalysis forward.

Read Highlight

Spring 2015

Matthew Shaner

Si Microwire Solar Water Splitting Devices

To address solar energy intermittency, this project seeks to develop a technology that, reminiscent of plants, directly converts sunlight and water into hydrogen and oxygen, effectively storing solar energy in molecular hydrogen bonds for on-demand energy production.

Read Highlight

Fall 2013

Emily Kosten

Limiting Light Emission in Solar Cells

This project aims to increase the efficiency of solar cells by managing the way light interacts with them. It looks at two different approaches to limiting light emissions: 1) using light reflective cups and 2) using an angle restrictive optical element.

Read Highlight