Professor of Chemical Engineering
Department of Chemical Engineering
(510) 643-3248

Research Expertise and Interest

chemical engineering, nanoengineering, catalytic imprinted silicas, catalysts in biological systems, catalysis, chemical sensing


A progressive trend in materials research, driven in part by the continuing miniaturization of technology, has been towards the synthesis of materials at a resolution complementary to an individual molecule of interest. Our research philosophy deals with the rational design of materials on this length scale for applications in adsorption, catalysis, nucleation and chemical sensing. Our objective is to synthesize amorphous materials that possess a precise functional group arrangement within a pore whose size and shape is controlled over the length scale of several Ångstroms to nanometers.

To accomplish this we use several distinct synthetic methods. We have the capability to characterize our novel materials by a variety of physical methods, such as multi-nuclear solid state NMR, infra-red, Raman, ultraviolet and fluorescence spectroscopies, physical adsorption experiments, probe molecule binding experiments (selective separations) and catalysis.

We are currently expanding into the use of other synthetic methods to produce nanoscale functional group arrangement in amorphous materials. Colloidal gold has been utilized to arrange protected thiols around the periphery. Excesses of 2000 molecules can be arranged around a central colloid, allowing for precise arrangement of functionality on a much larger scale than previously possible. Additionally, we are currently examining the use of calixarene macrocycles as prearranged "sites" which can then be covalently tethered to bulk silica. We have developed a method to produce silica-calixarene hybrids stable in excess of 400ºC. Moreover, the proven ability of calixarenes to selectively bind small aromatics is carried over into the hybrid material.

In Research News

In this image the reactive sites on the surface of a tetrairidium cluster can be controlled by using three calixarene–phosphine ligands to create a selective nanoscale environment at the metal surface.
May 28, 2014

Inspired by how enzymes work in nature’s biological processes, CBE professor Alex Katz and colleagues have demonstrated a way to improve control of synthetic catalysts.

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