The Surendranath Lab is focused on addressing global challenges in the areas of chemical catalysis, energy storage and utilization, and environmental stewardship. Fundamental and technological advances in each of these areas require new methods for controlling the selectivity and efficiency of inner-sphere reactions at solid-liquid interfaces. Our strategy emphasizes the bottom-up, molecular-level, engineering of functional inorganic interfaces with a current focus on electrochemical energy conversion.
Organic-Inorganic Hybrid Interfaces. The reactivity of an isolated metal center may be modulated systematically by coordinating organic ligands. We will develop general methods for modulating the reactivity of solid-liquid interfaces by coordinating organic ligands to extended solid surfaces. By adapting design principles for the coordination of metal ions in solutions, we aim to tune the electronic structure, local electric field, and secondary coordination environment of surface-confined active sites thereby promoting synergistic reactivity. By correlating ligand structure to surface reaction kinetics, we will develop a coordination chemistry framework for controlling interfacial reactivity at the molecular level. We are currently focused on developing organic-inorganic hybrid interfaces for advanced fuel cell applications.
Interfacial Reactivity at Phase Boundaries. Heterogeneous catalysts often consist of multiple phases, which, in combination, exhibit superior performance relative to each constituent in isolation. However, current methods for synthesizing multi-phase catalysts often give rise to a broad distribution in local composition and, therefore, obscure the underlying relationship of structure and function. We are developing general electrosynthetic methods for the tunable preparation of well-defined multi-component thin film and nanocrystalline catalysts with the goal of extracting broad periodic trends and fundamental mechanistic insights into the unique reactivity of phase boundaries. We are currently focused on developing multi-component catalysts for the selective electroreduction of carbon dioxide to liquid fuels.
Interfacial Reactivity of Transition Metal Chalcogenides and Pnictides. The efficiency and selectivity of a heterogeneous catalyst often depends critically on its nanoscale morphology, size and shape, because this defines the atomic-scale structures on display at the interface. While it has been recognized that transition metal chalcogenides and pnictides are attractive catalysts for applications ranging from fuel cell cathodes to hydrodesulfurization, systematic studies of morphology dependent reactivity have been impeded by the inability to access monodisperse nanocrystals by traditional colloidal synthesis methods. We are developing novel synthetic routes to this important class of materials with an eye towards understanding structure-function relationships at the molecular level.
Hypothesis-driven synthesis and rigorous physical characterization provide the basis for catalyst discovery and optimization. Students and postdoctoral scholars gain expertise in modern methods for the synthesis of inorganic coordination compounds, thin films, nanocrystals, and organic ligands. We employ a range of characterization tools including TEM, SEM, AFM, XPS, UV-Vis, IR, NMR etc. with a particular emphasis on electrochemical methods. These tools allow us to probe structure-function relationships that guide the development of new synthetic strategies.
Professor Surendranath is a collaborator of the MIT Energy Initiative.