V. Sara Thoi

V. Sara Thoi

Assistant Professor

PhD, University of California Berkeley

New Chemistry Building 114
410-516-4401
sarathoi@jhu.edu
Curriculum Vitae
Group/Lab Website
Google Scholar Profile

Dr. Thoi was raised in Los Angeles, CA and found her love for chemistry as a high school student. Her interest in chemistry was solidified at UC San Diego, where she conducted research in coordination complexes and metal organic frameworks and obtained her B.S. in Chemistry in 2008. She then traveled up the state to UC Berkeley where she received her PhD in Chemistry in 2013, studying molecular catalysts for photo- and electrochemical reduction of protons and carbon dioxide. Returning back to Los Angeles, Dr. Thoi completed her postdoctoral work on the development of metal-carbon composites for solid acid fuel cells at Caltech in the Materials Science Department. In 2014, Dr. Thoi was awarded the Young Investigator Award by the American Chemical Society, Division of Inorganic Chemistry.

Dr. Thoi joined the Department of Chemistry at JHU in 2015 as an assistant professor. Her research group is focused on the development of porous materials and catalytic systems for energy storage and conversion. One aspect of her research is on using  metal and covalent organic frameworks as cathode and electrolyte materials for lithium sulfur batteries.  Dr. Thoi’s lab is also pioneering interfacial and molecular strategies to promote the catalytic conversion of readily abundant molecules to sustainable chemical feedstock and fuels. In her independent career, Dr. Thoi has been recognized with an NSF CAREER Award, a DOE Early Career Award, and named as a Scialog Fellow in Advanced Energy Storage.

Conductive Inorganic and Organic Porous Materials for Renewable Energy

The Thoi research group will integrate elements of synthetic chemistry and materials science for applications in both homogenous and heterogeneous catalysis. A unifying theme is the development of new technologies for sustainable energy generation and storage using molecular design in solid-state porous materials. Drawing on expertise in fundamental coordination chemistry, electro- and photocatalysis, and materials synthesis, we will form new strategies to devise novel catalytic systems for artificial photosynthesis and address key challenges in ion-conducting materials for battery and fuel cell devices.

Charge-Conducting Ionic Porous Materials for Energy Utilization and High Density Storage

Efficient proton transport in fuel cells and ion conduction in Li-based batteries are issues that can be addressed by novel solid-state charge-conducting material. Reticular materials such as metal organic frameworks (MOFs) and covalent organic frameworks (COFs) are robust and crystalline networks that have discrete channels amenable to ion conduction. The synthetic modularity of these organic frameworks makes tuning their porosity and transport properties easily achievable. We will install ionic motifs such as imidazolium in the framework to support the conduction of charges across the pores in the material. Our studies will be focused on non-aqueous ion-conducting materials that can operate in intermediate temperature fuel cells and can address key safety concerns in Li- and Mg-based batteries.

Carbon Nanofoams as Conductive Scaffolds for Artificial Photosynthesis

Carbon aerogels are highly porous, robust, and conductive materials that have been utilized in energy storage and catalytic applications such as supercapacitors and degradation of pollutants. We will explore the use of these materials as scaffolds for surface attachment of molecular catalysts. The facile synthesis of carbon aerogels allows for the incorporation of functional groups, such as –COOH and –NH2, that can generate a second coordination sphere around the active metal center that can enhance catalytic rates. In addition, we will investigate new methods of synthesizing and characterizing solid-state inorganic materials to understand where and how active sites develop by using carbon aerogels as templates and supports.

Molecular Metal Complexes for Small Molecule Activation

Biology have long taken advantage of metals for performing complex chemical transformation and charge transfers.  Inspired by this rich chemistry, we will design new metal complexes that uses 1) naturally abundant elements, 2) redox-active ligands, and 3) a secondary coordination environment to activate small molecules that are relevant to a larger energy landscape.  We are currently pursuing the synthesis of metal complexes supported by structurally flexible pincer ligands that contain protic sites, providing a local source of protons to activate small molecules like carbon dioxide, water, oxygen, and nitrogen.

venn-diagram

Inorganic and Organic Porous Materials for Sustainable Energy Conversion and Storage

The Thoi research group will integrate elements of synthetic chemistry and materials science for applications in both homogenous and heterogeneous catalysis. A unifying theme is the development of new technologies for sustainable energy generation and storage using molecular design in solid-state porous materials. Drawing on expertise in fundamental coordination chemistry, electro- and photocatalysis, and materials synthesis, we devise novel catalytic systems for artificial photosynthesis and address key challenges in electrode and electrolyte materials for batteries.

Porous Materials for High-Density Energy Storage

We use porous framework materials such as metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) and covalent organic frameworks (COFs) to study charge transport and redox in energy storage. The synthetic modularity of these organic frameworks makes tuning their porosity and transport properties easily achievable. By taking advantage of the unique host-guest interactions within the pores, we have shown that framework materials can be used as cathode materials in lithium-sulfur batteries and are promising for the development of solid-state electrolytes.

Tuning Molecular Interactions in Heterogeneous Electrocatalytic Systems

We develop novel molecular and interfacial strategies to promote selective electrocatalytic conversions. We have shown, for instance, that the introduction of organic cations to the electrolyte can significantly enhance the selectivity for carbon dioxide reduction over hydrogen evolution. The ability to suppress proton reduction is also critical for other important chemical conversions, including nitrogen fixation and oxygen reduction. Along with rational catalyst design, we modulate the local environment and catalyst-substrate interactions by tuning the availability and identity of the electrolyte cations and anions. We also utilize porous materials, such carbon aerogels, to control substrate and charge transport.

Homogeneous Metal Complexes for Small Molecule Activation

Biology have long taken advantage of metals for performing complex chemical transformation and charge transfers.  Inspired by this rich chemistry, we design new metal complexes that uses i) naturally abundant elements, ii) redox-active ligands, and iii) a secondary coordination environment to activate small molecules such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, nitrogen, and water that are relevant to a larger energy landscape.

AS.030.404 / 454 Electrochemistry for Energy Conversion and Storage

This course is focused on the fundamentals and applications of electrochemical methods in catalysis, charge transport, and energy conversion and storage. The goal of this course is to introduce fundamentals of electrochemistry in a manner that will allow for practical day-to-day applications in the laboratory. We will discuss how to use electrochemistry as an analytical technique that can be added to your toolbox for understanding chemical reactions as well as the role of electrochemistry in energy conversion and storage.

 

030.449 Chemistry of Inorganic Compounds

This course is focused on the synthesis, structure, and reactivity of materials and inorganic compounds. Modern approaches to chemical bonding, including molecular orbital, ligand field, and crystal field theories, will be applied to understanding the physical and chemical properties of inorganic materials. Course topics will include: Molecular Structure and Bonding, Group Theory, Coordination Chemistry, Reactions and Mechanisms, Spectroscopy, as well as introduction to Organometallic Chemistry, Bioinorganic Chemistry, Solid State Chemistry, and Electrochemistry.