Mastering the synthesis, PHYSICal properties and reactivities of metal containing molecules, materials and enzymes
Inorganic chemists characterize, create, understand and develop tools to research inorganic and hybrid organic–inorganic molecules, metalloenzymes and materials, with applications spanning catalysis, green energy, and more. At the lightsources of SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Stanford scientists pioneered the use of synchrotron radiation to study the relationships of molecular and electronic structure to function, and continue to explore the power of the free-electron laser to resolve structure and capture chemical reactions in stop-action. Studies examining electronic and metrical details of metal ions at the active sites of enzymes have provided important insights into environmental catalysts, such as the nitrogenase responsible for conversion of atmospheric di-nitrogen to ammonia.
Stanford pioneers in synchrotron x-ray research employ the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource at SLAC to probe the electronic and structural environment of metallobiomolecules, demonstrating how molecular structure at different organizational levels relates to biological and chemical function. Using a variety of x-ray absorption, emission, diffraction and scattering techniques, they characterize electronic and metrical details of metalloproteins that are important in Earth’s biosphere, such as those that convert nitrogen to ammonia, oxygen to water or methane to methanol. Related efforts develop methods using the next-generation light source, the free electron laser, to image noncrystalline molecules and study chemical reactivity and photodynamics on ultrafast time scales.
Transition Metal Sites
Stanford chemists combine experimental and theoretical approaches to define the electronic and geometric structures of biologically- and catalytically-relevant transition metal sites, working toward a detailed understanding of relationships among electronic structure, reactivity and function. They have made substantial advances in our understanding of dioxygen activation by copper-containing enzymes and catalysts – making strides toward moving redox-active enzyme sites onto solid substrates.
Using mechanistic principles, department faculty develop new catalytic strategies for the selective synthesis of both macromolecules and fine chemicals, including cyclic polymers derived from renewable resources as a potential replacement for fossil fuel-based plastics and cost-efficient catalysts and chemical reactions that recycle CO2 into fuels and commodity chemicals using renewable energy sources. Pursuing applications in clean energy, Stanford chemists are successfully designing hybrid materials with the structural tunability of organic molecules and varied electronic and optical properties of extended inorganic solids, for use as sorbents for capturing environmental pollutants, electrodes for rechargeable batteries, and more.