By Gabriela Esposito, Student Written Communications Assistant
Yuanyuan Zhu, Materials Science and Engineering Assistant Professor and Director of the IN-siTu/Operando Electron Microscopy (InToEM) center at the Innovation Partnership Building, was awarded the American Chemical Society Grant for “Structural Basis for the Optimal Promoter Concentration and Distribution of Metal-promoted Oxide Catalysts for Selective Oxidation of Alkane.”
The grant is worth $110,000 and will last two years. During these two years Zhu and her collaborator, Professor Steven L. Suib (the Director of the Institute of Materials Science (IMS) and Co-director of InToEM) will perform research related to the fundamental understanding of the heterogeneous catalysts used for converting refinery gas (in particular, its components—ethane, propane, and butane) into high value petrochemicals such as ethylene.
According to Zhu, “Conversion to high-value petrochemicals like ethylene poses a dual challenge for heterogeneous catalysis: the catalyst must be capable of activating the first C-H bond of highly saturated alkane, while maintaining a high selectivity.”
This is groundbreaking considering most oxidation catalysts developed so far cannot achieve both. “Using state-of-the-art transmission electron microscopy including our new MEMS-based NanoReactor ETEM system, we are excited about solving this catalyst design problem by establishing a clear structural picture of some of the best alkane oxidation catalysts” Professor Zhu says.
Zhu joined UConn MSE as an assistant professor in 2018. She previously worked as a postdoctoral research associate and later as staff scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, both in the Physical & Computational Sciences Directorate and the Reactor Materials and Mechanical Design group in the Energy and Environment Division.
Zhu has already published nearly 50 publications on her research, many of which have won Editor’s Choice awards or were front page and feature articles. She is also a reviewer for the European Research Council’s Scientific Proposals Review Board and for the National Center for Electron Microscopy. She is an active member in the Materials Research Society, the Microscopy Society of America, and the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society.