NSF CAREER Award for Nicholas Brunelli
Nicholas Brunelli’s research on catalytic material design was recently recognized with a $530,000 NSF CAREER Award. The NSF-funded research will investigate the design, synthesis and catalytic testing of heterogeneous catalytic materials containing paired catalytic sites. The paired site design is inspired by highly active paired catalytic sites in enzymes. Overall, the NSF Career Award is the third external grant that Dr. Brunelli has received, including additional funding from NSF CBET and ACS-PRF.
The study targets design of heterogeneous catalysts for the liquid-phase isomerization of glucose to fructose, a key step in the valorization of biomass to chemicals and fuels. The authors utilize a bio-inspired catalyst design approach that has the potential to reduce cost of bio-renewable processing, increasing the economic competitiveness with fossil fuel sources of bio-derived chemicals and fuels. Integrated into the catalyst design approach is an educational outreach program that will increase participation of women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields.
Specifically, the PI seeks to synthesize catalytic materials containing well-defined paired catalytic sites on a solid silica support to increase the catalytic activity and selectivity for the isomerization of glucose to fructose. The paired site design utilizes a bio-inspired approach, translating the paired catalytic site of enzymes into a heterogeneous catalytic material. The proposed work will focus on developing a hydrothermal synthesis method that will incorporate paired sites into the zeolite framework. The work will seek to tune the catalytic performance through changing the composition of the pairs to demonstrate the mechanistic impact of paired sites. The study will also develop advanced spectroscopic methods to help identify the formation of paired catalytic sites. The technological impact of the project can be substantial since it will add a new dimension to the ability to tune catalytic performance and provide a method to increase the selectivity for biomass conversion to fructose and decrease associated energy costs. Overall, this would create a more economically viable route than currently available to produce high fructose corn syrup, biomass-derived polymers, or commodity chemicals. The work will be performed by a diverse team of students that will be trained in advanced catalytic material synthesis and testing. In addition to undergraduate and graduate education opportunities, the project will interface with several existing programs at Ohio State University to create a classroom module for students and a project to introduce the concepts of size-selective separation of zeolitic materials - a critical feature of these materials - to elementary school children to inspire future generations to pursue education in STEM-related fields. The filtration module will be made available through the PI website to expand the impact of the outreach efforts.
current research program focuses on creating novel tools to design, synthesize, characterize and test novel heterogeneous catalytic materials for the production of cleaner fuels and chemicals. His research group combines inorganic and organic synthesis techniques to generate unique mesoporous silicas, MOFs and zeolites.Brunelli’s
He has 26 peer-reviewed articles to date with nearly 1,000 citations. These papers have been published in high-impact journals, including Nature Communications, Angewandte Chemie, JACS and Science magazine.
Professor Brunelli joined The Ohio State University as an assistant professor in 2014. He received his bachelor of science in chemical and biomolecular engineering from Ohio State in 2004 and his PhD in chemical engineering from the California Institute of Technology under the advisement of Dr. Konstantinos Giapis in 2010. Prior to joining Ohio State, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology with Dr. Chris W. Jones and at Emory University with Dr. Huw M.L. Davies.
Congratulations, Dr. Brunelli and team!