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Colloquium | Nanoscience and Technology

Electrocatalytic Syntheses with Interfacial Control

NST Colloquium

Abstract: Synthesis driven by renewable electricity offers a sustainable, scalable, decentralized, and energy-efficient route to furnish value-added products – from fuels to complex molecules. As all electrocatalytic reactions occur at the phase boundary between conductive solids and liquid electrolytes, the discovery, design, and manipulation of selective electricity-driven reactivity demands new methods to probe and tune the interface and predict how interfacial structural changes influence reaction selectivity.

In this talk, I will disclose two recent discoveries from my group. First, we have discovered how to molecularly tune interfacial charge transfer by leveraging non-fouling, non-covalent interactions that are independent of electrode surface chemistry. Charge transfer properties of this self-assembling non-covalent layer mimic those reported for analogous covalently bound systems. Merging atomically precise organic synthesis with in-situ non-covalent self-assembly at polarized electrodes, our work sets the stage for predictive tuning of charge transfer at any electrode. Second, we have uncovered a paradigm that deploys catalytic electrode surfaces to develop reductive fragment-based electrophile coupling reactions. Using in-situ spectroscopy and electrochemical analyses, we reveal the black box” of the catalytic interface. The addition of Lewis acids pre-organizes the surface, enabling a carbon-centered radical (obtained via electrocatalytic activation) to efficiently add to the carbonyl. Our studies lay a foundation to develop sustainable synthetic methodologies by tuning the interfacial structure at catalytic, reusable electrodes at the molecular level.

Bio: Anna Wuttig is a Neubauer Family Assistant Professor in the Chemistry Department at the University of Chicago. She received her A.B. from Princeton University, where she was introduced to scientific research in laboratories of Profs. Haw Yang, Robert Cava, and Andrew Bocarsly. She received her Ph.D. from MIT with Prof. Yogesh Surendranath, and she was an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Berkeley in Prof. F. Dean Toste’s research group.  Her group develops electricity-driven reactions that span the chemical value chain by drawing on physical and synthetic inorganic and organic tools to advance the underlying science gating chemical reactivity at electrified interfaces.