Customer Interview: Prof. Thomas J Meyer - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
“I would have to take the time at some point to investigate the number of publications that have come from the lab that exploit the value of the instrumentation.” – Professor Thomas J. Meyer, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
At Edinburgh Instruments we believe that our spectroscopy instrumentation is second to none, and continue to strive to develop industry-leading products that serve multiple research applications across the globe.
We were delighted to catch up with Arey Professor of Chemistry, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Professor Thomas J. Meyer and talk to him about the work he is doing, and how our spectrometers are helping him with this research. Prof. Meyer has been at the top of his field for a number of years and has won several awards for his chemical research. He has had over 800 papers published throughout his career. His research has been notable, from pioneering innovative discoveries in chemical reactivity and applications to important problems in chemistry and energy conversion. We are honoured to work with Prof.Meyer and hope you enjoy what he has to say.
During your career – you’ve basically ‘written the book’ on Ruthenium complexes, in their synthesis, electrochemistry, and photophysics. What got you started in this line of research?
When I was a graduate student, a while back, my PhD advisor was Henry Taube who later won a Nobel Prize. A theme of interest in the Taube group was developing an understanding of the principles of electron transfer by solution kinetic measurements. An important part of the study was to find and exploit chemical systems that were amenable to experimental measurements at room temperature. Redox reagents, complexes of Ru(II) and Ru(III) stood out because they were stable in both oxidation states.
As a graduate student I took the time to investigate the literature in this area looking for other approaches and chemical systems to explore the point. I came across a detailed literature with an origin in the Australian coordination chemist, Frank Dwyer. He had explored the chemistry of Ru and Os based on polypyridyl and related ligands beginning during World War II and the results were extensive but relatively unexploited. In this area he had also trained some very distinguished students with two who come to mind, Alan Sargeson and David Buckingham.
The chemistry was, and still is, extraordinary. It documented synthesis based on Ru(II) to create stable coordination complexes with potentially important applications in a variety of ligand systems. Stability in multiple oxidation states allowed for electron transfer studies and, as time passed, the appearance of higher oxidation state oxo and nitrido complexes appeared. Coordinative stability in multiple oxidation states allowed for detailed investigation of mixed-valence complexes, a demonstration of the first catalysts for water oxidation, and the demonstration, for the first time, of proton-coupled electron transfer.
The multiple oxidation state chemistry of Ru is extraordinary but Os is even better. We have published a little in this area but the chemical possibilities are probably endless.
More recently, you’ve focused on solar fuels, using Ruthenium catalysts for water splitting to generate hydrogen gas. How can this transform our energy needs from the fundamental level?
As a background, I have attached a couple of publications that address the point. The key is the preparation of “solar fuels”, H₂ and O₂ from water or from CO₂ reduction products like CO. Our major, permanent energy source is the sun but using it as an energy source is greatly limited by its “temporary” nature. On average, as an energy source, it is accessible for a limited number of hours daily and they vary from day to day, season to season, and where you are on the globe.
Plants solve the problem in green leaves by photosynthesis with solar driven CO2 reduction by water to give O2 and CO2 reduction products that provide an energy source on demand. The vision is the same for solar fuels where, in addition to PV generation at midday, a significant fraction of PV collectors would be converted into sites for generating gaseous products like H₂ and O₂. In an integrated system a typical PV solar field would be integrated with an integrated solar fuels field. In the solar fuels section, incident solar photons would be used to store O₂ and H₂, or a recyclable carbon source. In an integrated system, the fuel cell generator would be integrated with a fuel cell for generation of electricity on demand creating a PV field that would be continuous energy source.
Looking forward, what do you think will be the next steps to make solar fuels, especially water splitting, a reality from the benchtop to implementation?
I think that it is doable, either with our approach, which utilizes molecular excited states or with a mix of semiconductors and light absorbers and dyes. In the dye approach that we have emphasised, a key has been to exploit the broad variety of molecular chromophores. The problem is to find ways to stabilise molecules in stable film environments that allow them to undergo multiple turnovers and allow them to last, essentially forever.
Your lab has endless capabilities and instruments, yet prominently features Edinburgh Instruments’ FLS Photoluminecence Spectrometer and LP Transient Absorption (Flash-Photolysis) Spectrometer in a lot of papers. How have they facilitated research in your lab?
It is hard to complain about the value that we have derived from your wonderful instruments. Many of our investigations have been based on the capabilities of both. We routinely use the spectrometer to characterise excited states with detailed analysis of the spectral details to characterise vibrational structure for example. It has also provided an effective tool for monitoring reactions as they occur and, in fuel cell applications, for the evaluation of photocurrents.
Transient absorption measurements have provided a systematic basis for investigating the dynamics of processes in solution and on the surfaces of modified electrodes. Both procedures have been at the core of most of our studies on photochemical and photophysical dynamics. I would have to take the time at some point to investigate the number of publications that have come from the lab that exploit the value of the instrumentation.
Research from Prof.Meyer
Artificial Photosynthesis: Where are we now? Where can we go?
Finding the Way to Solar Fuels with Dye-Sensitized Photoelectrosynthesis Cells
The University of North Carolina Energy Frontier Research Center: Center for Solar Fuels
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