Research News

Suib Group Featured On Materials Views Cover

materials views cover suibResearch conducted by the Suib Group is now featured as the cover of Material Views’ “Best of Advanced Energy Materials” feature.

The cover highlights Suib Group research regarding “Controlling the Active Sites of Sulfur-Doped Carbon Nanotube–Graphene Nanolobes for Highly Efficient Oxygen Evolution and Reduction Catalysis.” Collaborators include: Abdelhamid M. El-Sawy, Islam M. Mosa, Dong Su, Curtis J. Guild, Syed Khalid, Raymond Joesten, James F. Rusling, and Steven L. Suib.

Cover Summary: “A sequential two-step strategy is developed by Steven L. Suib and co-workers, in article number 1501966, to dope sulfur into carbon nanotube–graphene nanolobes (S,S’-CNT1000°C) to control the active-sites of metal-free catalysts. This strategy enhanced the oxygen evolution reaction better than state-of-art catalysts. This allows the S,S’-CNT1000°C to be a potential-candidate for next-generation metal-free regenerative-fuel cells. Workers in the cover image are doping carbon-nanotubes with sulfur that creates active-sites (raw materials) for the oxygen factory.”


Boosting The Efficiency of Solar Panels

KumarDr. C. Vijay Kumar is the focus of a recent UConn Today article highlighting his research to improve the efficiency of solar panels. Dr. Kumar has developed a light-harvesting antenna that could double the efficiency of existing solar cell panels and make them cheaper to build.

UConn Today

A UConn researcher has developed a light-harvesting antenna that could double the efficiency of existing solar cell panels and make them cheaper to build.

Professor Challa V. Kumar, who holds appointments in the departments of Chemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology, and the Institute of Materials Science, and his team have created a gel that enhances the ability of solar cells to absorb energy from sunlight.

Sunlight strikes Earth every day with more energy than is used globally in a year. But finding an efficient way to capture and store solar energy to replace fossil fuels as the world’s go-to energy source remains a challenge.

“Most of the light from the sun is emitted over a very broad window of wavelengths,” says Kumar, who recently presented his work at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Boston. “If you want to use solar energy to produce electric current, you want to harvest as much of that spectrum as possible.”

Silicon photovoltaic solar cells, the most common type currently used on rooftop panels to convert photons – tiny particles of light – into electricity, can’t take advantage of the blue part of the light spectrum. Only photons with the right amount of energy get absorbed by the photovoltaic cell.

The antenna built by Kumar and his team, collects unused blue photons in the light spectrum and, via a process of “artificial photosynthesis,” converts them to lower energy photons that the silicon can then turn into current, Kumar explains.

Taking inspiration from plants, the team used a mixture of biodegradable materials to collect sunlight, much like plant chlorophyll. The concoction includes cow blood protein (a waste product in the meat industry), fatty acid from coconuts, and different organic dyes.

Together these substances form a gel that, when placed in a Gratzel cell, a particular type of solar cell, increases their absorption of unused photons and the power output of the cell.

“This process is great for coating solar cells’ light-emitting diodes, which mostly emit in the blue region,” Kumar says. “Our vision is to integrate this technology into the manufacturing process of solar panels, which cost homeowners thousands of dollars, to make them more affordable and efficient.

Kumar says that many groups around the world are working to make this kind of antenna, but claims his is the first of its kind.

He says the gel is easy to make and relatively inexpensive, but the mixture needs to be stable and tough enough to last multiple years to be incorporated into existing manufacturing techniques.

The University has filed a provisional patent application, and Kumar is working with a Connecticut company to figure out how to apply the gel to silicon solar cells.

Suib & He Group Research Highlighted on Chemistry of Materials Cover

Chemistry of Materials coverA paper entitled “Colloidal Amphiphile-Templated Growth of Highly Crystalline Mesoporous Nonsiliceous Oxides” from the Suib and He groups (Chem. Mater. 2015, 27, 6173–6176) was featured on the front cover of Chemistry of Materials. They highlighted the utilization of polymer-tethered silica nanoparticles for the preparation of thermally stable and highly crystalline mesoporous transition-metal oxides with uniform large pores. The colloidal amphiphile-templating method combines advantages of soft- and hard-templating methods and allows the as-made amorphous oxides to be directly crystallized by calcination under air while retaining their ordered mesostructures.

Read more

Novel “Green” Antenna Could Double Solar Efficiency

solar panels
Solar panels could get a major efficiency boost from a thin-film antenna made of proteins, lipids and organic dyes.
Credit: TodorovNikifor/iStock/Thinkstock

The Kumar Group and He Group have reportedly developed a unique “green” antenna that could potentially double the efficiencies of certain kinds of solar cells.

Efficient solar cells maximize the absorption of the sun’s wavelengths. However, current silicon solar cells are not efficient in the blue part of the light spectrum. In response, Kumar’s team built an antenna that collects unused blue photons and then convents them to lower energy photons that the silicon can then turn into current. The product is both more compostable and affordable than silicon solar cells. This antenna is the first of its kind in the world.

Dr. Kumar presented his team’s results at ACS Boston (video). Their work was featured in ECN Magazine, CleanTechnology News, and Energy Business Review, amongst others.

New Peanut Allergy Test Goes Beyond Scratching the Surface

UConn Today

PeanutsCurrent peanut allergy tests are not very reliable when it comes to diagnosing the severity of an individual’s allergic reaction, which can range from hives to life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

With an estimated three million people in the United States allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, having a more precise and reliable allergy test could prevent hospitalizations and allow for better monitoring of individuals suffering from peanut allergies.

Three chemists at the University of Connecticut (UConn) are developing a more advanced peanut allergy test that, based on initial results, is many times more sensitive than current procedures. The new test is capable of determining the potential intensity of a patient’s allergic reaction through just a few drops of blood. Continue reading

UConn’s 500 MHz NMR Instrument Gets Smart

NMR instrumentOver this summer, the Bruker Avance 500 MHz NMR spectrometer located in Pharmacy has undergone a major upgrade. We purchased and installed a new 5mm SmartProbe and performed the necessary console and shim upgrades to make the probe work. The probe has increased sensitivity of the 500 for 1H by several fold and also increased sensitivity for 13C, 31P and 15N. The other key feature of the SmartProbe is the ability to observe 19F with 1H decoupling and to perform two-dimensional 1H/19F spectroscopy that was not possible on this instrument before. Additionally, any of these nuclei can be automatically selected and optimally tuned and matched with the auto tune-match (ATM) component. During the installation of the SmartProbe, a new shim map was created and, with this, a user may enjoy automatic shimming by the Topshim routine. Overall, the new probe and associated upgrades should accelerate acquisition times, expand the number of observable nuclei, and simplify the experiment setup on the 500. The upgraded 500 is an instrument of choice for users with small quantities of a compound or where a higher resolution is necessary, and for multidimensional experiments such as HSQC, HMBC or NOESY. This upgrade should extend the lifetime of the 500 for another 5-10 years. Funds for the upgrade were provided by the Department of Chemistry, the Office of the Vice-Provost for Research, the Biotechnology and Bioservices Center, the Institute for Materials Science, and the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. We sincerely thank all of them for their financial support.

A New Way to Create Porous Materials

UConn Today

A team of UConn chemisDr. Steven Suibts has discovered a new way of making a class of porous materials that allows for greater manufacturing controls and has significantly broader applications than the longtime industry standard.

The process, more than three years in the making and outlined in the December 2013 edition of Nature Communications, has resulted in the creation of more than 60 new families of materials so far, with the potential for many more. The key catalyst in the process is recyclable, making it a ‘green’ technology.

Four patent applications related to the discovery are pending. VeruTEK, a chemical innovations company based in South Windsor, Conn., has secured rights to some of the materials.

“This is definitely the most exciting project I’ve been involved in over the past 30 years,” says Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor Steven L. Suib, the project’s principal investigator. “What we’ve done is similar to discovering a new insect, only now there is a series of families of these things that can be discovered. That’s pretty cool.” Continue reading

Chemist Discovers New Way to Stabilize Proteins

UConn Today

A UCochemist discovers way to stabilize proteinsnn research team has found a way to stabilize hemoglobin, the oxygen carrier protein in the blood, a discovery that could lead to the development of stable vaccines and affordable artificial blood substitutes.

The team’s novel approach involves wrapping the polymer poly(acrylic acid) around hemoglobin, protecting it from the intense heat used in sterilization and allowing it to maintain its biological function and structural integrity.

In addition to having potential applications in the stabilization of vaccines and development of inexpensive artificial blood, the stabilizing polymer also allows vaccines and other biomedical products to be stored for longer periods without refrigeration. It could also have applications in biomaterials, biosensors, and biofuels. Continue reading