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UW’s Leonard Receives NSF Grant for Materials Science Research

September 17, 2019
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Brian Leonard, a UW associate professor of chemistry, recently was awarded a three-year, $490,529 National Science Foundation grant. Leonard will study intercalation, or insertion chemistry, that can be critical for future technological applications, such as batteries, smart windows and ultra-thin electronic components such as transistors and capacitors. (Krista Watzel Photo)

Modification of functional materials is one of the greatest challenges facing materials scientists, and this fine-tuning process is critical for future technological applications -- such as batteries, smart windows and ultra-thin electronic components such as transistors and capacitors.

To advance that science, Brian Leonard, a University of Wyoming associate professor in the Department of Chemistry, has received a three-year, $490,529 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, titled “Topochemical Synthesis of Functional 2D Materials.”

“We are trying to understand intercalation, or insertion chemistry, and how to control the insertion of ions and molecules into layered hosts or lattices,” Leonard says. “We believe that, if we understand the driving forces behind the intercalation, we will be able to insert many different molecules and ions with a variety of functional properties and applications, including Li-ion batteries and smart windows.”

Two-dimensional (2D) materials, such as graphene, have the potential to unlock new technologies that will lead to smaller, cheaper, faster and more efficient devices.

The grant includes $333,686 for 2019 and 2020, and another $156,000 becomes available in 2021. The grant began Aug. 15 and runs through July 31, 2022. This project is supported by NSF’s Solid State and Materials Chemistry program in the Division of Materials Research and the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

The initial aim of this project will focus on layered metal oxyhalide compounds. The short-term goals include understanding what role the host materials play on the insertion reactions and the types of guests that can be inserted. By understanding what governs the insertion reactions, new guests with novel properties can be designed and incorporated into layered materials, resulting in products with specific desirable properties.

The physical and electronic properties of these materials will be monitored to understand how to fine-tune 2D materials for future applications.

The long-term goal of this project is to develop new synthetic methods that allow for the modification of more complex, multi-element 2D materials through insertion reactions in which guest atoms and molecules are incorporated without disrupting the original layered structure of the host, according to the NSF award site.

The grant will fund two UW graduate students and one undergraduate student. Andrew Smith, a third-year UW Ph.D. student in chemistry from Colorado Springs, Colo., is one of the students. Leonard is recruiting another graduate student and one undergraduate to assist with the research. 

This project will give students from high school through graduate school hands-on training and education in the field of materials chemistry. These future scientists will be taught skills in both synthesis and characterization solid-state materials as well as the fundamental background on these technologically important materials.

As part of the grant, Leonard also will interact with high school and community college classes through demonstrations and seminars to help educate the public about the importance of novel layered materials for future applications.

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