ChBE Professors Taylor Woehl and Chen Zhang Receive NSF CAREER Award

ChBE Profs Taylor Woehl and Chen Zhang

Image: Taylor Woehl (left) and Chen Zhang (right).

Taylor Woehl and Chen Zhang, both professors in the University of Maryland Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE), received CAREER grants, the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s most prestigious award in support of early-career faculty members.

The CAREER (Faculty Early Career Development) Program supports exemplary junior faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. Activities pursued by early-career faculty build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.

Taylor Woehl, ChBE Assistant Professor

Woehl's project, funded by the NSF Division of Chemistry in the amount of $656K, "Single Particle Visualization of Chemical Processes During Multimetallic Nanocrystal Synthesis," aims to investigate the chemical processes involved in forming metal nanoparticles - small particles ten thousand times smaller than the width of a hair that contain a mixture of various metals. These nanoparticles, also known as multimetallic nanoparticles, have promising applications in enhancing the efficiency of electrolytic fuel cells for cars and enhancing the efficiency of chemical synthesis. Each application requires a different type of nanoparticle containing a specific combination of metals, so a better understanding of the synthetic processes used to make multimetallic nanoparticles is important for controlling their properties. The Woehl research group will use an electron microscope, which uses electrons instead of light to take images, to develop a detailed understanding of the chemical reactions involved.

"We use high energy electron beams, a unique approach pioneered by our lab, to probe the reactions mechanisms for how the nanoparticles form," said Woehl. "The overall goal here is to establish fundamental understanding of the chemical reactions that occur during synthesis to come up with new synthesis recipes to control the final properties of the nanoparticles." The grant supports integrated educational outreach activities and the Woehl lab will partner with local Maryland high schools to introduce students to nanoscience and chemical engineering.

Chen Zhang, ChBE Assistant Professor

Zhang's project, "CAREER: A New Paradigm for Creating Silica Membranes from Polymer Hollow Fiber Templates," is funded by the NSF Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems (CBET) in the amount of $546K. It seeks to understand the formation of scalable ultra-microporous silica membranes using polymer-templated inorganic hollow fiber substrates. Compared with traditional inorganic membranes derived from sintered substrates, polymer-templated inorganic hollow fiber membranes are formed at milder conditions with tunable pore structure and transport properties.

"The innovative polymer-templated inorganic hollow fiber platform will potentially be a game changer for membrane-based separations and beyond," said Zhang. "It will allow low-cost fabrication of high-performing inorganic membranes for economically-important chemical separations such as hydrocarbon separations, carbon dioxide capture, and water purification."

In addition to funding research activities, the NSF CAREER award will also support Zhang’s educational outreach plans. Efforts will be made to broaden the participation of high school students from underrepresented groups in advanced membrane research through year-long research internships. Zhang, who directs the Sustainable Separations Lab at UMD, will also develop distance outreach programs for high school students with limited school access.

Woehl and Zhang join four other faculty members in the A. James Clark School of Engineering - Shelby Bensi, Gregg Duncan, Katrina Groth, and Katharina Maisel - who also received CAREER awards this year. The projects will commence later this fall.

Published July 7, 2021