Research Directions 

Molecular interactions and molecular assembly from the atomic to the mesoscale determine critical material properties. For example, morphology defines the transport pathways of charges in thin film organic electronics or protons in a fuel cell membrane. Soft materials, like polymers, are critical components in many energy and environmental applications, however, it is challenging to precisely understand and control molecular assembly in soft materials because they are often relatively disordered and there is limited elemental contrast. We aim to develop fundamental insights into molecular assembly in soft materials to drive materials development. We leverage a range of tools and capabilities, in particular synchrotron-based x-ray scattering and spectroscopy coupled with simulations, synthesis, materials processing, and device-relevant measurements.

Ion-conducting membranes for energy applications

Ion-conducting polymers  are critical components in a range of electrochemical energy conversion and storage applications. For example, polymer membranes are used in fuel cells to allow protons to transport between the electrodes while blocking the passage of electrons or as a solid-state lithium ion conducting electrolyte in a battery. We are interested in determining how membrane morphology and molecular interactions in the bulk and at interfaces impacts the transport of ions. This bridges polymer chemistry and membrane conductivity, ultimately informing the design of new ion-conducting membranes for renewable energy applications.

This work is in collaboration with LBNL's Energy Conversion Group and funded through LBNL's Laboratory Directed Research and Development program.

Water purification membranes

Advancements in desalination and water treatment are needed to address the global lack of access to clean, safe water supplies. Polymers enable various water treatment technologies, for example, reverse osmosis, filtration, and wastewater treatment. However, challenges still need to be addressed. For example, polymer-based water treatment membranes cannot treat heavily contaminated water and suffer from fouling. We seek to understand how membrane chemistry and structure dictate performance.  We are working on understanding how isoporous membranes are formed via self-assembly and nonsolvent induced phase separation (SNIPS), and mechanisms that control membrane fouling. An improved understanding of these fundamental phenomena can help direct the development of new fit-for-purpose water treatment materials.

This work is funded through a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center, the Center for Materials for Water and Energy Systems (M-WET)

Inorganic/organic nanocomposites

Multicomponent blends of organic and inorganic components can self-assemble into remarkable morphologies reminiscent of natural materials, making them useful for new dielectric, barrier, optical, and mechanical properties.  To achieve these structures, more components often need to be added, but this complicates self-assembly pathways. We aim to understand how material properties and processing impact nanocomposite self-assembly by using x-ray tools, including polarized x-ray scattering coupled with simulations, to probe molecular details like polymer chain orientation. 

This work is part of LBNL's Inorganic/Organic Nanocomposites Core Program, funded by DOE Basic Energy Sciences.

Funding Sources: