Two UNT chemistry professors are among 50 researchers nationwide sharing a $15 million National Science Foundation grant to research chemical catalysis.
Wes Borden, professor and Welch Chair of Chemistry, and Tom Cundari, professor of chemistry, will supply most of the expertise and training in computational chemistry for what the NSF has designated as the Center for Enabling New Technologies through Catalysis.
CENTC is a five-year, $15 million project with 50 researchers at 10 universities and one national lab across the United States. CENTC is the first NSF chemical bonding center to be funded.
Computational chemistry uses computer simulations and calculations to determine how specific chemicals will react with each other, as well as how to design new molecules that can serve as catalysts in chemical reactions.
"UNT has a high concentration of expertise here when it comes to computational chemistry," Borden says. "We are a major player in the field."
Borden's and Cundari's research will look for environmentally-friendly ways to synthesize the chemical aniline, a key component in the manufacture of polyurethane foam. Currently, the synthesis requires multiple steps, high heat and concentrated acids. The researchers hope to find a catalyst to produce aniline in one step at room temperature from the reaction of benzene and ammonia.
"We should be able to predict what catalysts can do this, based on computational chemistry. Other researchers will then test our proposed catalysts in the laboratory," Borden says.
UNT's Department of Chemistry has acquired a national reputation for research in computational chemistry. It also is the home of the Center for Advanced Scientific Computing and Modeling, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education. CASCaM will serve as the site for training CENTC experimentalists who want to take advantage of computational chemistry in their own research.
"I hope UNT will play an important role in helping CENTC to meet its ambitious goal of developing new catalysts that will benefit chemistry, not only in the United States, but also around the world," says Mike Richmond, professor and department chair.
UNT News Service Press Release
Rafael McDonnell can be reached at RMcDonnell@unt.edu.