Designing sustainable new forms of matter with customized properties for applications in energy storage and conversion, future electronics, molecular imaging and sensing, drug and cell delivery, environmental remediation, and smart materials that can sense and respond to their environment
Functional materials are building blocks of modern society and play a critical role in the evolution of technology. Materials chemistry is unique in providing the intellectual foundation to design, create, and understand new forms of matter, let it be organic, inorganic, or hybrid materials. From nanomaterials and molecular devices to polymers and extended solids, chemistry is creating a world of new materials as catalysts, sensors, molecular transporters, artificial scaffolds, molecular filters, and light-emitting or electron-conducting ensembles, with the potential for broad scientific and societal impact.
Powered by an exceptional and diverse array of institutes, centers and training programs, Stanford scientists are developing new approaches to precisely observe and control atomic and molecular behavior; new strategies to relate atomic and molecular behavior to the macroscopic properties of materials; and new methods for creating materials of defined structure, properties and function. Economic and environmentally sustainable technologies will require new approaches to chemical science and technology; Stanford scientists are leading this charge with the molecular design of materials that can be produced economically and with minimal environmental impact, while also handily recovered, reused and reintegrated at the end of their useful life.
Rational Molecular Design
Stanford scientists are designing and creating innovative molecular structures for the anticipated novel properties, and understanding the structure-property relationships to allow rational molecular design of materials. Using molecular principles of chemistry, they have created complex macromolecular architectures such as cyclic polymers and shape-persistent ladder polymers, conjugated π-systems containing antiaromaticity, dynamic polymer networks, smart materials sensing and responding to various stimuli, and organic/inorganic perovskites for energy and electronic applications.
Stanford pioneers in carbon-based nanomaterials have created and characterized multiple variants on carbon nanotubes and graphene nanoribbons with properties useful in electronics, energy storage and biomedicine. The group’s nanocarbon–inorganic particle hybrid materials have opened new directions in energy research, with water splitting catalysts and electrocatalysts for oxygen reduction, while their aluminum ion battery with graphite cathodes represents a substantial breakthrough in battery science.
Mesoscopic Properties at Ultrafast Time Scales
Stanford chemists invented ultrafast methods to study molecular dynamics and interactions as they occur, revealing relationships among dynamics, structure, and intermolecular interactions in complex mesoscopic molecular systems such as water confined in nanoscopic environments, metal organic frameworks, and porous silica. These techniques make it possible to follow processes over an unprecedented range of time scales, from tens of femtoseconds to ten microseconds.
Stanford chemists work at the forefront of new developments in the generation and study of novel materials made from renewable and sustainable resources. Using mechanistic principles to create catalysts for the synthesis of complex macromolecular architectures, they develop sustainable polymers, synthetic fuels, and bioactive molecules. Using synthetic chemistry tools, they design hybrid materials that couple the structural tunability of organic molecules with the diverse electronic and optical properties of extended inorganic solids. These efforts specifically target materials with applications in clean energy, such as sorbents for capturing environmental pollutants, electrodes for rechargeable batteries, and absorbers for solar cells. In addition, our faculty are advancing emerging strategies for the synthesis and covalent modification of mesoporous silica- and carbon-based materials, aiming to achieve highly stable, selective and recyclable post-combustion CO2 sorbents.
Ongoing research is developing functional degradable polymers and oligomers that function as "molecular transporters" to deliver drugs and probes into cells, tunable hydrogels that serve as artificial cell scaffolds for cell transplantation and regenerative cell therapy, and nanopillars as subcellular sensors to probe biological functions in living cells. Theoretical and computational efforts seek to understand the statistical mechanics of soft materials, including proteins, DNA, and lipid membranes.