Renske van der Veen Receives Doctoral New Investigator Award
Assistant Professor of Chemistry Renske van der Veen recently received the American Chemical Society (ACS) Petroleum Research Fund (PRF) Doctoral New Investigator (DNI) Award for Ultrafast Carrier and Structural Dynamics in Plasmon-Enhanced Heterogeneous Photocatalysis.
The DNI program aims to promote the careers of young faculty by supporting research of high scientific caliber, and to enhance the career opportunities of their students, and postdoctoral associates through the research experience.
“We propose to use ultrafast X-ray spectroscopy tools at synchrotron facilities to aid the elucidation of energy relaxation pathways in heterostructured photocatalytic nanomaterials,” Renske said.
Photocatalysis is the acceleration of a chemical reaction in the presence of light. It’s used for the treatment of industrial waste waters, in chemical transformations (hydrogenation, desulferization, etc.), and the production of light-weight hydrocarbons as chemical feedstock that replaces petroleum-based sources of energy.
“Major research efforts are geared towards the enhancement of photocatalytic activity by depositing noble metal, like gold or silver, plasmonic nanoparticles onto conventional semiconductor photocatalysts such as TiO2 in order to extend the light absorption range into the visible, and therefore to increase the energy conversion efficiency,” Renske shared. “However, despite these efforts, the exact fundamental mechanisms responsible for this plasmon resonance-enhanced light energy harvesting are still subject of heavy debate. Our research will employ a unique approach based on time-resolved X-ray absorption spectroscopy that enables probing the movement of charges across the metal-semiconductor interface directly, with element specificity and ultrafast (picosecond-nanosecond) time resolution.”
According to Renske, the typical laser-based techniques probe the energy relaxation pathways of the entire heterostructure, including both noble metal and metal-oxide moieties.
“Those techniques are blind to where charges go within the nanostructure,” Renske said. “Our X-ray studies will allow us to zoom into specific elements that made up the heterostructure, for example, the gold or titanium atoms. We will therefore be able to directly see where the charges go, and how fast they move. Such fundamental knowledge can then be used to improve the heterostructured interface to allow for more efficient energy utilization.”
The van der Veen group will conduct these studies at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory.
“I am very excited to receive this award from the ACS!” Renske said. “The proposed studies are highly complementary to ongoing research efforts in my lab using ultrafast electron microscopy at the MRL.”