Friday, July 24, 2020

NanoEngineer earns Dissertation Year Fellowship

Jacobs School of Engineering nanoengineering PhD student Qiaowan Chang has been awarded a Dissertation Year Fellowship funded by the Marye Anne Fox Endowed Fellowship Fund. This fellowship is awarded to students who demonstrate highly distinguished academic records, and provides recipients with a $22,000 stipend for their dissertation year, plus tuition and fees.

Qiaowan Chang
We spoke with Chang about her research, her accomplishments at UC San Diego, and her future goals.

Q: How did it feel to receive this award?
A: I feel very excited and lucky to receive this award. It's not only a recognition of my current research, but also encouragement for my future work. And thanks to my supervisor, Professor Zheng Chen, for the instruction, the help during my PhD studies, and for offering lots of opportunities to collaborate with other groups.

Q: Tell us about the research you’ve been conducting in Professor Zheng Chen's lab.
A: My research is mainly focused on designing electrocatalysts at atomic scale through fundamental understanding of their elementary processes in several key electrocatalytic applications and reactions, including decentralized hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) production (2-electron oxygen reduction reaction), direct liquid fuel cells (ethanol oxidation reaction), and carbon dioxide (CO2) conversion (carbon dioxide reduction reaction).

Q:  What are some of the applications of your research?
A: For the decentralized hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) production (2-electron oxygen reduction reaction), H2O2 is one of the most useful chemicals across the entire chemical industry. For the traditional production method, the transportation and storage of H2O2 are unresolved problems due to its chemical instability. Only a dilute H2O2 solution is needed for most applications. For example, 3% H2O2 solution is used as the disinfectant to fight the COVID-19 virus. My research is to develop a green and user-friendly method to produce H2O2 on-site from the two-electron oxygen reduction reaction.

For the direct ethanol fuel cells (ethanol oxidation reaction), it could be used in electric vehicles. In direct ethanol fuel cells, ethanol is oxidized by oxygen to generate electricity. Ethanol is a green and sustainable fuel that can be produced from agriculture feedstocks. Thus, direct ethanol fuel cells are environmentally-friendly techniques for powering vehicles.

For the carbon dioxide (CO2) conversion (carbon dioxide reduction reaction), electrochemical technology could reutilize and convert CO2 to other important chemicals to mitigate climate change and ocean acidification caused by the increased CO2 level. 

Q: Tell us about your dissertation topic.
A: My dissertation topic is to explore novel strategies to design electrocatalysts at atomic scale through fundamental understanding of their elementary processes in the above applications and reactions. The key to make such electrochemical reactions happen is the electrocatalysts. The thesis mainly discusses several strategies, including to tune the local chemical coordination between atomic catalyst clusters (metal) and their support materials (defect carbons) using a composite approach to achieve the synergistic effect of “1+1>2” (that is, Pd clusters deposited on the oxidized carbon nanotubes) for decentralized hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) production (2-electron oxygen reduction reaction), and to control the morphology and structure of the electrocatalyst (that is, the core-shell cubic-shaped electrocatalysts: 10 nm of platinum (Pt) nanocubes as a core and a ~0.2 nm thick of iridium (Ir) layer as a shell) in direct ethanol fuel cells (DEFCs).

Q: What are your future goals once you earn your PhD?
A: I will do a postdoc first to finish my remaining projects. Then, I will try to pursue a faculty position in academia, or a researcher/scientist position in industry.

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