Sara was raised in Los Angeles, CA and found her love for chemistry as a high school student. Her interest in research 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, Sara 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, Sara was awarded the Young Investigator Award by the American Chemical Society, Division of Inorganic Chemistry.
She joined the Department of Chemistry at JHU in 2015 as an assistant professor. Her research group is focused on 1) the development of conductive metal and covalent organic frameworks for electrode and electrolyte materials in fuel cells and batteries, 2) the use of conductive aerogels as scaffolds for catalytic reactions, and 3) the discovery of new molecular metal complexes for activating energy-relevant small molecules.
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.
Fall 2015: AS.030.404 Electrochemistry for Energy Conversion and Storage
This course will be 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.
Pre-requisites: 030.204, 030.449, 030.472, or instructor approval for undergraduate students. No pre-requisites for graduate students.