Jun 24, 2009 — Dr. Anatoly Frenkel, professor of physics at Stern College for Women, is one of four principal investigators awarded a grant of $1.92 million over three years from the U.S. Department of Energy to study the fundamental properties of nanoparticles that are essential for catalysis (the speeding up of chemical reactions). His research could ultimately help develop more efficient catalysts and lead to alternative sources of energy.
Frenkel will receive $473,000, which will fund a full-time postdoctoral research associate and support his research at Stern College and Brookhaven National Laboratory. The professor also plans to involve Yeshiva University undergraduates in his research, starting in the fall when he returns from a sabbatical.
The study sets out to describe and understand the fundamental properties of nanoparticles by measuring their structure and reactivity using a number of advanced experimental techniques and computer simulations. Frenkel will conduct his research using very powerful X-ray sources at the National Synchrotron Light Source at Brookhaven. As a co-director of the Synchrotron Catalysis Consortium there, which he co-founded, he helps run the dedicated facility for synchrotron research in nanocatalysis and nanoscience.
“Catalysis is at the core of the chemical and petroleum industries in the US and is thus of critical importance to the national economy,” Frenkel said. “For example, it has been estimated that catalysis-based processes represent 90 percent of current chemical processes and generate 60 percent of today’s chemical products. In addition, catalysis is of growing importance in several other fields, including environmental protection, pharmaceuticals and bioengineering, and more recently fuel cells.”
According to Frenkel, nanoparticles make up the majority of existing catalysts but their catalytic activity is not yet understood. The far-reaching mission of his research is to help advance our understanding of the mechanism of catalysis and edge the scientific community forward toward a rational design of catalysts.
“Catalysis is essential in our ability to control chemical reactions,” Frenkel explained. “The process is critical to finding alternative energy solutions—including hydrogen, solar and water energy—to decrease our nation’s reliance on fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas.”