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VCU Leverages Catalysis Research With $325k NSF I/UCRC Grant

Thursday, March 19, 2015  
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The Virginia Commonwealth University Chair of the Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering, B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D., was recently awarded a $325k National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. This grant will support the Center for Rational Catalyst Synthesis (CeRCaS), of which Gupton is co-director, in leveraging research opportunities with industry.

Researchers at VCU and the University of South Carolina (USC), the two universities that make up CeRCaS, are celebrating their organization’s recently designated status as an Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) under the grant. “Being a center expands our access to valuable resources and increases our interactions with industrial partners so that we can conduct research to meet their needs,” said Everett Carpenter, Ph.D., VCU researcher at CeRCaS. These companies will contribute several million dollars in order to leverage additional research funding in support to the center.

Each year, CeRCaS will fund approximately ten research projects in catalyst synthesis with the majority of financial support coming from the industrial partnerships. Catalysts are materials that can accelerate chemical reactions without being consumed in the chemical process and are a major component of our global economy. “If you look at catalysis as an economic entity,” said Gupton, “it would be the third largest country in the world just behind the economies of the EU and the USA.”

CeRCaS’s path to becoming a center first started two years ago in 2013 when Dean Barbara Boyan encouraged Gupton to investigate the I/UCRC program as a potential platform for catalysis research. “The next day I got a call from J.R. Regalbuto, director of CeRCaS, asking if VCU would partner with South Carolina and bring pharmaceutical resources into the mix,” said Gupton. “I saw this as a message that I should take note and get started!”

Shiv Khanna, Ph.D., professor of physics at VCU and CeRCaS researcher, spoke to the advantages of the center’s integrative research, “Through a combination of theory and experiments across VCU, USC, and industrial partners, we have the tools and experience to make progress on the outstanding challenges in catalysis.”

Gupton added, “This effort is not just comprised of engineering researchers. We have faculty from chemistry, medicinal chemistry, and physics, so it is truly a multidisciplinary program.”

The combined funding from NSF and the industrial partners could support investments in many areas, but research and characterization tools are key to the center’s vision to streamline catalyst development. Carpenter is the director of VCU’s Nanomaterials Core Characterization Facility (NCC) where NSF-funded instrumentation is housed. “We in the NCC work closely with Frank. He identifies potential catalysts, and my lab makes that material and characterizes it,” he said. “Not only does the center build bridges with institutions to address these needs, but it also connects students with potential industry employment pools.”

VCU’s affiliation with CeRCas has proven to be a win-win relationship for all faculty and industry members involved. “VCU has always strived to promote collaboration amongst researchers and industry,” said Khanna. “This is an opportunity to work together to solve important problems.”

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