Fuel cells have long held promise as power sources, but low efficiency has created obstacles to realizing that promise. Researchers at the University of Illinois and collaborators have identified the active form of an iron-containing catalyst for the trickiest part of the process: reducing oxygen gas, which has two oxygen atoms, so that it can break apart and combine with ionized hydrogen to make water. The finding could help researchers refine better catalysts, making fuel cells a more energy- and cost-efficient option for powering vehicles and other applications.
Andrew A. Gewirth
Professor Andrew A. Gewirth received his A.B. from Princeton University in 1981 and his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1987. He joined the Illinois faculty in 1988 after postdoctoral work at the University of Texas, Austin. Research in his group focuses on the structure and reactivity of surfaces and interfaces.
- inorganic spectroscopy; scanning tunneling microscopy; interfacial electrochemistry; materials properties of surfaces; spectroscopic and probe microscopic characterization of surfaces in varied environments
Research in our group focuses on the structure and reactivity of surfaces and interfaces. We utilize local probe microscopies in conjunction with electrochemical, computational, and spectroscopic methods. Electrochemical use of the Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) was developed in our laboratory.
Metal surfaces in electrochemical environments are important in satisfying future energy and remediation needs.[/i] One focus of recent activity is the four electron electroreduction of O2 to H2O. Despite intensive effort, little is understood about this reaction, which complicates design of new catalysts. We are using spectroscopic means on well-defined catalyst surfaces along with computational methods to interrogate intermediates and understand the mechanism of this reaction. The insight we obtain from these studies is used to design materials that may exhibit enhanced activity. We emphasize coupling inorganic materials, such as polyoxometalates, with electrochemical activity. These surfaces have potential use in fuel cells and other energy-related applications.
We examine electrode surfaces in order to elucidate properties of the electrochemical double layer and focus on fundamental properties of the electrified solid-liquid interface. For example, we use vibrational spectroscopic means to address, for the first time, the structure of water at this interface and the way in which the water molecules interact with the anions and cations that constitute the double layer. A related effort uses potential dependent "force spectroscopy" with the AFM to examine the composition of electrode materials.
Electrodeposition of Cu is the preferred method today to metallize semiconductors.[/i] Small organic and inorganic molecules control the texture of the electrodeposit, and developing an understanding of the way in which these molecules act becomes increasingly important as feature sizes decrease. We use vibrational spectroscopy and probe microscopy to interrogate these molecules and understand the way in which they moderate the electron transfer process occurring during deposition.
A new focus examines the behavior of supported phospholipid bilayers both by themselves and after introduction of relevant materials including polymers and proteins. We examine the interaction of different proteins with each other and with other constituents of the bilayer film as a function of external variables such as temperature, pressure, and applied field. These measurements are providing insight into the behavior of proteins and other constituents in cell membranes.
Distinctions / Awards
- University of Illinois Scholar, 1995
- University of Illinois Scholar, 1995
- DOE Outstanding Accomplishment in Materials Science, 1993
- Fellow, UIUC Center for Advanced Study, 1991
- Presidential Young Investigator Award, 1990
In The News
Illinois professors Nancy Sottos and Andrew Gerwith developed a method to comprehensively measure the mechanical stress and strain in lithium-ion batteries. It revealed a point of stress in charging that, if addressed through new methods or materials, could lead to faster-charging batteries.