(6bq) Precision Synthesis to Control Catalyst Surface Structures for Improved Reactivity and Performance

Ball, M. R. - Presenter, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Research Interests:

Catalytic reactions play a vital role in the production of fuels and chemicals for our growing world. The development of new catalysts for chemical transformations is hindered, however, by a reliance on empirical knowledge due to the complexities of surface-adsorbate interactions. Without detailed structure-activity relationships, an experimental trial and error method is often used to identify appropriate catalyst formulations for a variety of reaction systems. By elucidating the controlling factors of catalyst performance, we can design the best catalyst structure for a particular transformation. The ability to rationally design catalysts for any given reaction would facilitate important improvements to reactions for energy, chemical, and environmental applications.

Well-defined catalytic materials with a uniform distribution of active site structures offer one approach to the development of structure-activity relationships. My Ph.D. research under Professor James Dumesic has focused on the synthesis of well-controlled bimetallic surface structures to tune catalytic performance. Conventional catalyst synthesis techniques, such as impregnation, can result in catalysts with monometallic species within the bimetallic system. I demonstrated that uniform, bimetallic active sites can be formed by selectively depositing a promoting metal onto a parent catalyst. By using controlled surface reactions to synthesize bimetallic catalysts, I have elucidated structure-activity relationships for Pd-based bimetallic catalysts for selective hydrogenation, hydrodechlorination, and amination reactions. Using FTIR, STEM-EDS, and XAS techniques, I concluded that the resulting Pd structure varies with catalyst composition, and that highly active, isolated Pd species can be formed at low Pd loadings. Additionally, using both in-situ and ex-situ characterization, we identified important changes to the catalyst surface in the presence of adsorbates, highlighting the dynamic nature of the catalyst.

By combining synthesis of well-defined bimetallic active sites and advanced characterization techniques with fundamental reaction kinetics studies, we can develop structure-activity relationships which inform further catalyst improvements. My future research program will use these approaches to understand the active site and develop novel catalytic materials for a variety of chemical transformations.

Teaching Interests:

Throughout my graduate studies, I have had a variety of experiences through which I have developed my interest in teaching and gained a variety of tools to be an effective instructor and mentor. I have served as a teaching assistant for undergraduate Chemical Kinetics and Reactor Design and Transport Lab courses. Additionally, I was a teaching assistant for graduate level Kinetics and Catalysis where I developed a range of course assignments and assessments. I have also taken courses in the Delta Program for Teaching and Learning and taught Entering Research, a seminar course for students conducting research for the first time. I have come to see teaching as an extension of my own interest in solving global problems through engineering and science. My goal in teaching is to motivate and excite students so that they have authority over their own learning and become independent critical thinkers and problem solvers. I aim for my students to develop the skills to solve technical problems through application of fundamental principles in team-based environments. Based on these goals and my teaching experiences, my approach to teaching rests on three main principles: a foundation of student engagement, a student-centered classroom, and an inclusive learning environment that values all perspectives.

I believe that incorporating active learning approaches is key to ensuring effective learning. The next generation of chemical engineers will face a wide range of challenges in changing feedstocks, the need for improved efficiency, and mitigating effects of climate change, and I aim to guide student development of problem-solving skills through hands-on laboratory experiences and project work. I am deeply passionate about teaching and plan to continue to apply best practices from literature on teaching and learning to my own classroom. I am interested in teaching material balances and unit operations courses, as these serve as the foundation for a comprehensive chemical engineering education. I am also interested in teaching kinetics and catalysis courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level and would be interested in developing elective courses on microkinetic modeling or material science for chemical engineers. By incorporating topics from current research into my classroom, I aim to inspire students to build upon their chemical engineering education and develop the skills needed to be the next generation of problem solvers.