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December 05, 2012

Research improves light-based hydrogen production

green glowing fluids in test tubes
Vials of nanocrystals fluoresce under UV light. Rochester chemists are studying the process as a means to increase the output and lower the cost of current light-driven hydrogen-production systems.

Hydrogen is an attractive fuel source because it can easily be converted into electric energy and gives off no greenhouse emissions. A group of chemists at the University is adding to its appeal by increasing the output and lowering the cost of current light-driven hydrogen-production systems.

The work was done by graduate students Zhiji Han and Fen Qiu as part of a collaboration between chemistry professors Richard Eisenberg, Todd Krauss, and Patrick Holland, which is funded by the U. S. Department of Energy. Their paper was published in the journal Science.

The chemists say their work advances what is sometimes considered the “holy grail” of energy science—efficiently using sunlight to provide clean, carbon-free energy for vehicles and anything that requires electricity.

One disadvantage of current methods of hydrogen production has been the lack of durability in the light-absorbing material, but the Rochester scientists were able to overcome that problem by incorporating nanocrystals. “Organic molecules are typically used to capture light in photocatalytic systems,” says Krauss. “The problem is they only last hours, or, if you’re lucky, a day. These nanocrystals performed without any sign of deterioration for at least two weeks.”

Richard Eisenberg, the Tracy H. Harris Professor of Chemistry, has spent two decades working on solar energy systems. During that time, his systems have typically generated 10,000 instances—called turnovers—of hydrogen atoms being formed without having to replace any components. With the nanocrystals, Eisenberg and his colleagues reported turnovers in excess of 600,000.

The researchers also managed to overcome other disadvantages of traditional photocatalytic systems. “People have typically used catalysts made from platinum and other expensive metals,” Holland says. “It would be much more sustainable if we used metals that were more easily found on the Earth, more affordable, and lower in toxicity. That would include metals, such as nickel.”

Faculty installed to endowed professorships

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Snapshots of 2012

On view: ‘William Henry Seward and His Civil War’

Seward, who was Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state and helped influence his policies, is a central figure in the new Steven Spielberg film Lincoln.

Nancy Fried Foster honored for research on library culture

Foster’s application of ethnographic tools to study how students access information at the library led to a bestseller in the library world.


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“Keith’s leadership, background and enthusiasm will add a wonderful dimension to Eastman,” says Michele Gibson, senior associate dean at Eastman.

Rochester students among winners of business competition

Contestants also had an opportunity to hear from current Simon students about their prior experiences in this competition and how it helped prepare them for Simon’s MBA program.

National honors for Eastman musicologist Michael Anderson

Anderson was recognized for his article “Fire, Foliage, and Fury: Vestiges of Midsummer Ritual in Motets for John the Baptist."

Humanities Project explores role of observation in the arts and sciences

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Simon School receives $1M for scholarship support

Because of these and other generous contributions, more than 80 percent of full-time MBA students at the Simon School receive some sort of financial support.

Latino Cultural Symposium features research, resources

The event featured research and information about education, health, language, and civic engagement concerning the Latino community.