The complexity and mystery of zeolites – porous aluminosilicate crystals – was what first attracted Dr. Jeffrey Rimer, the Abraham E. Dukler Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, to his current field of research.
“I was first introduced to zeolites during my Ph.D. studies, and I quickly become fascinated by these porous materials, partly because of their complexity, but more so by the fact that very little was known about the fundamental mechanisms governing zeolite crystallization,” he said. “This presented a challenge that to this day continues to motivate research in my group.”
Rimer's research group will be aided in its search with a $446,364 NSF grant for his proposed project, “Designing New Methods to Exploit Intercrystalline Transformations in Zeolite Synthesis.”
According to a project summary provided by Rimer, zeolites are often used as catalysts and absorbents in commercial applications because of their unique properties. Despite their wide use in fields spanning from energy to medicine, their complexity makes it difficult to understand how these materials form and what methods can be developed to control and optimize their properties.
Rimer's project will use experiments and computer analysis to investigate a topic of growing interest – seed-assisted synthesis. The method involves introducing crystal seeds in growth mixtures to promote the formation of zeolite crystals with desirable sizes, shapes and compositions.
“The preliminary findings from our group reveal that seed-assisted synthesis has the potential to open new doors for the advancement of zeolite crystal engineering,” he said. “Given the importance of these materials in the petrochemical and chemical industries, advancements in the understanding of zeolite formation can lead to transformative outcomes, including innovative synthetic routes to tailor material properties for better performance in processes.”
Rimer said he has several collaborators for this work.
“The project will support two doctoral students, including one of my current students, Rishabh Jain, who helped gather preliminary data for this proposal,” he said. “As part of this project, we will also be collaborating with professor Javier Garcia Martinez at the University of Alicante in Spain, for state-of-the-art characterization of our materials. We will also work with professor Rafael Gomez-Bombarelli, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for machine learning to help guide experimental design.”
Rimer is the PI for the project. Funding from the grant runs from July 15, 2020 through June 30, 2023.