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Chemistry News

Chemists use abundant, low-cost and non-toxic elements to synthesize semiconductors

One of the problems for Javier Vela and the chemists in his Iowa State University research group was that a toxic material worked so well in solar cells.

And so any substitute for the lead-containing perovskites used in some solar cells would have to really perform. But what could they find to replace the perovskite semiconductors that have been so promising and so efficient at converting sunlight into electricity?

The holy grail of biology: advancing the modeling of cell differentiation

Davit Potoyan and his research team have made advancements in the understanding of the nature of embryonic stem cells and how they transition into specific adult cells by using a novel computational methodology. The knowledge could one day lead to advancements in organ growing for transplants, reducing reliance on organ donation.

Summer Courses in Chemistry

This summer, invest in yourself by taking Chemistry summer courses, enjoy smaller class sizes, fewer distractions and get ahead/stay on track to meet your graduation goals. The 8-week semester allows you to focus on the class, and many students have seen an improvement in their GPA. Best of all, you can enjoy a beautiful summer in Ames.

Chemistry is fun year-round, see the full list of courses at

Summer 2018 courses in Chemistry

Questions? Email or call 515.294.6352 or visit 1608 Gilman Hall

15 African-Americans who were hidden heroes of the Manhattan Project

Samuel Massie, of Little Rock, Arkansas, worked as a chemist at Iowa State University's Ames Laboratory during the Manhattan Project. 

Rossini quoted in Semiconductor Engineering

Hedgehog spin-vortex crystals
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory has discovered a missing piece to enable novel superconductor devices–the hedgehog spin-vortex crystal phase.

UFMAS improves NMR technology. “Many new materials have been developed in the past decade to address needs for energy conversion and storage,” said Aaron Rossini, a scientist at Ames Laboratory, and a professor of chemistry at Iowa State University. “However, there is still a lot we don’t know about how these materials function. We want to change that and bring new information to the table that will be used to optimize these materials.

“Our work could have far-reaching impact on a lot of fields, in electronics, lighting, solar cells, nanoparticle design, materials with a variety of energy applications,” said Rossini. “If we are able to explain how structure and function are related, we can help direct intelligent materials design.”

RCSA Names Cottrell Scholars for 2018

Brett VanVellar is named as one of 24 Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) Cottrell Scholars in 2018. This prestigious award is given to top early career academic scientists.

Klaus Ruedenberg wins prestigious award

Ruedenberg, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of chemistry, will receive the 2018 Schrödinger Medal from the World Association of Theoretical and Computational Chemists (WATOC).

Congratulations to Amrit Venkatesh

Amrit Venkatesh, a student in Rossini's group, has been selected to receive the Brown Graduate Fellowship for 2018-2019. This $10,000 award is given to students who are helping to advance ISU's research in the areas of science, agriculture and space science. The Brown Graduate Fellowship is to be used to strategically advance ISU research in the areas of study that are governed by the Valentine Hammes Family and Leopold Hammes Brown Family Trust. Venkatesh is one of 13 recipients this year. Congratulations!

Yen Nguyen: An inside look into an international students' role model

For her other major role as the president of the International Career Council (ICC), she is responsible for helping international students at Iowa State to find approaches and solutions regarding internships, co-ops and full time positions.

Chemists follow molecules down 'nanowells,' track catalytic reactions in nanoconfinement

Wenyu Huang and his research group created, studied and described the multi-layered spheres used to investigate catalytic reactions in nanoconfinement.

A Research Agenda for a New Era in Separations Science

Jared Anderson, was named to be on a NAS Committee on a Research Agenda for a new Era in Separations Science.  Anderon is one of 10 committee members that will create a report to provide guidance to research sponsors, as well as to the research communities in academia and industry. The report’s recommendations will focus on science needs and priorities rather than specific funding or organizational aspects.

Katherine Woo and Shannon Lee receive NASA fellowship grants

Congratulations to Katherine Woo and Shannon Lee, graduate students in chemistry, who received NASA fellowship grants from the NASA Iowa Space Grant Consortium (ISGC) for their research into thermoelectric materials, which can convert a heat gradient into electricity.

Katherine Woo and Shannon Lee, both graduate students in chemistry, synthesize solid state materials useful for thermoelectrics in the lab group of Kirill Kovnir, an associate professor of chemistry.

“Katherine and Shannon are hard-working students who are interested in learning new ideas and creating new compounds,” Kovnir said. “With their dedication and creativity, it is a pleasure to have such students in the group. They also excel in attracting younger generations into the science of chemistry via outreach activities.”

The thermoelectric materials Woo and Lee work with operate much like batteries. In a battery, the flow of charge across a chemical gradient creates electricity. In a thermoelectric material, the flow of charge across a thermal gradient creates electricity. Thermoelectrics are especially useful for powering devices on space missions where batteries may run out and spacecraft or extraterrestrial rover may be too far from the sun to use solar energy. In these scenarios heat generated by the decay of a radioactive isotope can be harnessed by thermoelectric generators to create electricity.

The main obstacle for using thermoelectric materials, especially on Earth where other electricity sources are prevalent, is their efficiency. Thermoelectric materials are currently not as efficient as other electricity sources. In addition to being efficient, thermoelectric materials must be stable, nonhazardous and reasonably low cost.

Woo and Lee synthesize, test and tweak materials searching for optimal thermoelectric properties. They may synthesize a material, test its properties, then add another element into the material or change the crystal structure of the material and test for how the properties changed.

“By changing the structure, you can actually affect the properties,” Lee said.

As gains in efficiency of materials are made, thermoelectrics become more practical for more uses. One way thermoelectrics can be used with existing technology is to pair them with current machines which produce heat as a way to harness some of the lost heat.

“I love chemistry that has a foreseeable application,” Woo said. “Anything that has waste heat: big machines in factories, cars, even computers, we can take this heat and actually turn it to electricity.”

Receiving the NASA grant was inspiring to both Woo and Lee.

“It’s motivational,” Woo said. “It reaffirms that the research I do has future applications.”

Getting under graphite’s skin: A recently discovered method of layering metals with the 2D material may lead to brand new properties

Pat Thiel and Ann Lii-Rosales, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, have discovered a new process to sheathe metal under a single layer of graphite which may lead to new and better-controlled properties for these types of materials.

Preparing for research in the exascale

A bigger, faster computer is coming. But will researchers be able to make use of it?

Exascale computers are predicted to be here sometime in the 2020s. These computers will be at least 50 times faster than the most powerful computers of today, greatly enhancing the computing power available — if the software can keep up. Theresa Windus, a professor of chemistry, paves the way in preparing computational chemistry software for exascale speeds.

Windus was one of twelve invited speakers at The International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis this past November (also known as Supercomputing ’17 or SC ’17) in Denver, Colorado. The conference is the largest supercomputing meeting in the world, bringing together 11,000 scientists both nationally and internationally who are either involved in computer science or have an interest in how high-performance computing can be used for their particular scientific field.

“It was a great privilege,” Windus said.

She talked at the meeting on the challenges of preparing for exascale computing and the possible solutions her teams have come up with.

She works on two projects preparing for exascale computing: GAMESS, led by Mark Gordon at Iowa State, and NWChemEx, led by Thomas Dunning Jr. at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Both projects are software platforms for modeling chemistry and both will need updating to run on the new, faster exascale computer systems.

“The kind of science that this can really enable is huge,” Windus said. “We could model a much more realistic system.”

Because of the scale of what can be done with an exascale computer, more of the surrounding environment, which often affects the chemistry, can be taken into account in the simulations. In addition, simulations can be run allowing for the many different ways and configurations in which a reaction might happen, better predicting if a reaction will happen, how quickly it would happen and what the end products of the reaction would be.

Three focus areas for the new software, Windus said, are performance, portability and productivity. The software algorithms need to be able to perform across the entire exascale machine. It also has to be portable across different exascale machines, which will likely have different architectures from each other. It also needs to be productive for any researcher to use, even graduate students who may have only a basic understanding of coding technique.

It’s a tall order with a moving target. What exascale will look like is only anticipated and not yet known. But Windus brings expertise in high performance computing research, an area she has worked on since her graduate work at Iowa State in 1993. She was also a team lead from 2001-2006 for the NWChem project, now twenty years old and undergoing a complete rehaul in preparation for exascale.

“I like the challenge of trying to figure out how to make all these different pieces work together and hopefully come up with a beautiful, creative, performing product in the end,” Windus said.

Klaus Ruedenberg wins the 2018 Schrödinger Medal of the World Association of Theoretical and Computational Chemists

Congratulations to Dr. Klaus Ruedenberg for winning the prestigious 2018 Schrödinger medal of the World Association of Theoretical and Computational Chemists.  The WATOC Schrödinger medal is awarded each year to one outstanding theoretical and computational chemist.