(2ac) Understanding and Improving Supported Metal Oxide Catalysts | AIChE

(2ac) Understanding and Improving Supported Metal Oxide Catalysts


Ahn, S. - Presenter, Northwestern University
[Research Interests ]

Heterogeneous catalysts are the core materials of chemical manufacturing, owing to thermal stability and easier separation as compared to their homogeneous counterparts. In fact, approximately 90% of chemicals and fuels are produced with the aid of heterogeneous catalysts. There is, however, a big challenge to overcome, which arises from ambiguous active sites structure and non-uniform distribution of surface species. This problem makes it challenging to better understand surface phenomena in catalysts and directly leads to difficulty in the proper design of catalysts.

Another big challenge in the catalysis field is the utilization of methane for efficient energy use. Methane is considered to be an inert molecule due to its high C-H bond dissociation energy (~440kJ mol-1) and is the main component (70-90 %) of natural gas. However, excess methane is often flared to the atmosphere, which results in waste of valuable chemical feedstock. In order to utilize methane, many research works investigate selective oxidation at low temperatures (< 300 °C). The current goal is to enhance the yield of oxygenated products (e.g., methanol, dimethyl ether) to achieve economic viability. At high temperatures (> 500 °C), many efforts have been made to develop reforming of methane (with water or CO2), but in this case, catalyst deactivation at such elevated temperatures is inevitable.

With my expertise in catalytic chemistry and reaction engineering that I have developed throughout my research career, I seek to pursue research that presents solutions to the aforementioned problems.

[Teaching Interests]

I highly value two questions in education—“why” and “how”. These two fundamental questions are important in general learning environments, for example, during lectures and academic advising. Personally, I have experienced their significant roles when I completed a coursework, performed a research project, and advised mentee students. Based on what I learned during my academic training and research endeavors, I now aspire to become an educator that provides young scientists and engineers with the necessary classroom experience, mentorship, and professional development that prepare them to answer their own questions of “why” and “how” as they launch their own careers.

“Why”, which stems from curiosity, is important as it directly relates to a motivation. From my experience, I realized that my learning processes were smooth once I thought through and worked towards an answer to this question. In fact, my PIs from graduate schools and postdoctoral career always emphasized this question, and they trained me to ponder about the “why” whenever I worked on a research project. For instance, this was one of the most important questions during my qualification exam and PhD defense. As an educator, I believe one of my biggest roles is to facilitate students to think of this question and to encourage them to motivate themselves. This, in turn, will result in fostering independent and strong researchers.

“How” directs you to think about the different ways to achieve a goal and has equal importance as to “why”. Regarding this question, I am confident that I can contribute to the learning experience of students in two ways. First, I can help students by conveying my knowledge and experience to solve problems. Certainly, I will emphasize that there are other ways so that students could think differently. Second, in order to answer “how”, I will teach students to work with each other closely to resolve technical questions and puzzles efficiently, as I believe the combined knowledge of a group is much greater than the knowledge of a single person. Teamwork is a crucial value for students to harness regardless of what their future careers would be.

By combining these two simple yet critical questions, I seek to foster an independently thinking person who can contribute to solving difficult problems either as a team member or a leader. With this educational philosophy, my ultimate goal is to have my future students influence and contribute significantly to where they belong.


This paper has an Extended Abstract file available; you must purchase the conference proceedings to access it.


Do you already own this?



AIChE Members $150.00
AIChE Emeritus Members $105.00
AIChE Graduate Student Members Free
AIChE Undergraduate Student Members Free
Non-Members $225.00