NSF Award for three Pitt faculty members

For the first time in a funding cycle, three researchers from one University of Pittsburgh department were recognized with the National Science Foundation’s most significant award in support of junior faculty. John Keith, Giannis Mpourmpakis and Christopher Wilmer, all assistant professors of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering received individual NSF CAREER awards, which “recognize faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.” All three faculties heavily conduct research using Center for Research Computing resources.

The three professors received $500,000 each in funding for the five-year awards.

The Pitt Chemical and Petroleum Engineering CAREER Awards include:

john-keithJohn A. Keith, Assistant Professor and Inaugural R.K. Mellon Faculty Fellow in Energy
SusChEM: Unlocking local solvation environments for energetically efficient hydrogenations with quantum chemistry (#1653392)

John Keith’s proposal “Unlocking local solvation environments for energetically efficient hydrogenations with quantum chemistry” was recently selected for an NSF CAREER award. The project addresses the production of carbon-neutral liquid fuels via
electrocatalytic reduction of the keithgreenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) to methanol. Specifically, the study seeks to improve the efficiency and selectivity of current solvent-based electrochemical processes by advancing understanding of how aqueous electrolytes participate in the overall reaction mechanisms at the atomic scale. The research will be coupled with educational thrusts that engage students in grades 8-12 in learning about renewable energy catalysis and computational chemistry.

A) overlaid Pourbaix diagrams for an N-doped graphene ribbon (gray/purple) and carbonic acid (solid lines). B) QC calculated ΔE values along the reaction pathway for the hydride transfer reaction: 2H2O + BH4 + CO2 →H3O+ +BH3OH + HCO2. PBE data corresponding to minimum energy pathways for a) explicit solvent + counter ion, b) continuum solvent only, c) 1st solvent shell + continuum solvent, d) counter ion and continuum solvent, e) 1st solvent shell + counter ion + continuum solvent.


untitled-1Giannis (Yanni) Mpourmpakis, Assistant Professor
Designing synthesizable, ligand-protected bimetallic nanoparticles and modernizing engineering curriculum through computational nanoscience (#1652694)

“The goal of this project is to develop a novel open-access computational framework for predicting the growth mechanisms and morphologies of ligand-protected metal nanoparticles (NPs). np_career_graph-mobile
With NPs impacting numerous fields of science and technology, from energy to medicine to the environment, there is a critical need to determine the growth mechanisms of ligand-protected metal NPs and predict NP morphologies that can be synthesized in the laboratory. Although metal nanoparticles (NPs) of different sizes and shapes can be synthesized by colloidal chemistry methods, advances towards controlling NP morphology have been based largely on trial and error experimentation, which is often tedious and costly. The proposed computational framework will employ novel first-principles-based structure-property relationships accounting for structure sensitivity and metal composition. The integration of research and education efforts will focus on modernizing the traditional Chemical Thermodynamics course by introducing animation modules based on cutting-edge nanotechnology examples. Outreach activities are planned through a nanoscale-inspired interactive computer game to engage high school students, including underrepresented minorities, into pursuing STEM careers and increase awareness about the importance of the field of nanotechnology.

The proposed research project will combine Density Functional Theory methods with Monte Carlo and Molecular Dynamics simulations, Machine Learning, and scientific computing to develop a novel, open-access computational framework, applicable to the design of ligand-protected NPs. This framework will generate a library of crystal structures and electronic properties of thermodynamically stable, thiolate-protected, Au-based bimetallic NPs, across a range of heterometals and particle morphologies, all under realistic experimental conditions. The proposed work aims to advance current theories on NP stabilization, which are based on simplified, electron counting rules. The proposed computational framework will enable rational design of ligand-protected NPs. It will also elucidate NP growth steps that are experimentally intractable, thus accelerating nanomaterials discovery. The research findings will be made available online for experimental verification.”


chris-wilmerChristopher Wilmer, Assistant Professor
Fundamental limits of physical adsorption in porous materials (#1653375) 

“The research objective of this proposal is to further our understanding of the range of physically accessible adsorption behavior in porous materials, and in so doing determine theoretical efficiency limits on important adsorption-related processes
, such as post-combustion carbon capture.pseudomaterial_website_whitebg The PI will use classical molecular modeling to simulate adsorption in randomly generated porous materials, called pseudomaterials, where the constraint that the materials be energetically stable is relaxed. Since the limits of adsorption in pseudomaterials will necessarily be higher than in real materials, determining the limits of pseudomaterials will also determine the limits for real materials. This approach will be used to establish a rigorous theoretical upper limit on the efficiency of a membrane-based post-combustion carbon capture process, which is considered one of the most promising technologies for mitigating climate change due to fossil fuel-based power plant emissions.”
“The educational objective of this proposal is to further public understanding of gas separations processes at the molecular level, especially as they pertain to carbon capture technologies relevant to climate change. The PI will (1) leverage his past success in creating award-winning scientific movies to develop a sequence of five educational movies on the fundamental physics, and applications, of gas adsorption (one for each year of the grant period), (2) teach lessons on adsorption to high school students interested in STEM careers as part of the University of Pittsburgh’s INVESTING NOW program,and (3) mentor undergraduates from underrepresented groups via the University of Pittsburgh’s EXCEL program. To increase their effectiveness and scale of impact, the educational movies will be created in consultation with science film-making professionals at Untamed Science, who will also help disseminate the movies online.”

You can find more information on here.
Congratulation to all of them.