California State University, Northridge physics professor Gang Lu is sharing a $6.25 million Multi-University Research Initiative (MURI) grant from the Army Research Office with researchers from Brown University as they team up to explore the ways to make the fundamental processes of catalysis more efficient.
While the research is funded by the military, Lu said the five-year study could have implications for every day life since 90 percent of all commercially produced chemical products involve catalysis at some stage in the process of their manufacture.
“What we are doing could be the foundation for looking into new directions for using catalysis for energy conversion and storage,” Lu said.
Lu is working with Brown University professors Bill Curtin, Pradeep Guduru, Sharvan Kumar and Shouheng Sun on the study “Stress Controlled Catalysis via Engineering Nanostructures.” The researchers hope to demonstrate that macroscopic applied mechanical loading can be used to actively control and tune catalytic reactions through the use of innovative nanoscale material systems.
What Lu and his fellow researchers hope to do is develop a way to make catalysis more efficient while saving costs for manufacturers.
“Today, the process is not so efficient,” Lu said. “If we can control the way the catalysis works, that could add higher efficiency. If we can control the catalysis, it could change whole industries. At least we hope that is the case”.
Lu’s role in the project is to develop first principles based modeling of the project. A first principles model is one that seeks to calculate a physical quantity starting directly from established laws of physics without making assumptions, such as empirical or fitted parameters.
Lu said his is a multi-scaled computational model that will enable the researchers to envision how large the stresses will need to be in the metal catalysts to significantly influence the rates of selected chemical reactions in the overall catalytic process.
Lu and his colleagues hope to create ultra-strong nanostructured materials in new and unique designs where the mechanical load can be controlled and varied while also serving to isolate strain.
If they are successful, it may be possible to increase catalytic efficiencies by using time-varying stresses to actively control the reactions during operation, opening up the field of catalysis to an entirely new area of materials design.
In the past, Lu said, the catalysis “has been passive.”
“What we want to do is control the catalysis by basically applying stress to materials to make reactions faster or slower,” he said. “We may not want the materials to rock, or go on one pathway or the other. Hopefully, by using nanostructures, we will be able to control the catalysis.”
If they are successful, their research could change the way catalysis is developed and used, which has major implications for the defense industry as well as objects used in everyday life, he said.
In more than 40 years since it was founded, Cal State Northridge’s Department of Physics and Astronomy has graduated more than 1,000 students with undergraduate and master’s degrees in physics and physics-related fields. Its faculty are at the leading edge of research in a variety of disciplines within the field of physics, offering both undergraduate and graduate students invaluable, hands-on opportunities to conduct research and co-author publications alongside their professors.
The College of Science and Mathematics at California State University, Northridge is among the top universities in the nation preparing students who go on to earn doctoral degrees in the sciences. In addition to ensuring that the region and the nation has a pool of talented scientists capable of assuming leadership roles in a knowledge-based, multicultural society, the college also prepares a number of students to attend medical, dental and pharmacy schools.