BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (July 30, 2012) – Western Kentucky University’s Chemistry Department has received a $267,000 grant over three years from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will support a photocatalysis research project titled “Production of Highly Reactive Metal-Oxo Species with Molecular Oxygen and Visible Light for the Selective Oxidative Catalysis.”
With this award through the Chemical Catalysis Program, Dr. Rui Zhang and his students at the WKU will develop sustainable, “green” and selective oxidation catalysis via high-valent transition metal-oxo species using molecular oxygen and visible light (sunlight). The inspiration of this work comes from studies of the cytochrome P450 enzymes, which are the most versatile biological catalysts in nature.
This research will address globally important energy and environmental issues. The use of molecular oxygen and sunlight in the oxidation processes of bulk chemicals is particularly innovative and sustainable from the point of view of economical and environmental consideration. Thus, the current goal of the project is the development of effective metal catalysts that can utilize solar light to activate the molecular oxygen at ambient conditions and transfer to fine chemical substrates with high stereoselectivity. Initial success in this project is promising and forecasts future growth in accessing oxidized commodities. This work will also generate insights into important chemical and structural factors that govern photocatalytic properties and processes.
This interdisciplinary research offers students a broad view of chemical research that will enhance student learning and success as emerging professionals. Many of these students will pursue a Ph.D. upon graduating.
The Department of Chemistry and Dr. Zhang’s research team have a strong record of actively involving and training undergraduate researchers. This project will also reach out to the exceptional science students attending the Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky at WKU as well as the recently established five-year B.S./M.S. program in the Department of Chemistry.