Information for potential students

This content is authored and maintained by the current graduate students in SUNCAT Theory group.

New Students/Postdocs Q&A

How is the Nørskov group related to SUNCAT?
The Nørskov group is part of a larger organization called SUNCAT that Jens founded upon moving to Stanford in 2010. SUNCAT, which stands for SUstainable eNergy through CATalysis, is now made up of many groups working in energy-related catalysis at Stanford, including the Jaramillo group, Bent group, and Cargnello group. One of the goals of SUNCAT is to encourage collaborations between experimentalists and theorists. The Nørskov group represents the theory component of this effort.

How many students are in the group?
Currently, there are ~15 graduate students in the Nørskov group. In addition to graduate students, there are typically ~20 post-docs. We also currently have 6 staff scientists who are here to provide additional guidance to all students and post-docs. Their roles in your research can vary, from taking a major role in mentoring you to providing occasional feedback. It is not uncommon for students to have Jens as their primary advisor and a staff scientist as an unofficial secondary advisor.

What are the main research areas members of the group are working on?
Almost everyone in the group works generally on heterogeneous catalytic systems. Within heterogeneous catalysis, we are interested in 4 main research areas: ammonia synthesis, oxygen electrochemistry, partial methane oxidation, and carbon dioxide electroreduction. Typically, your work will fall into one or more of these categories, and you will attend a weekly subgroup with other group members working on similar projects. These subgroups typically last about an hour, during which time each member of the subgroup will present a short update on their work from the previous week. Additionally, students or postdocs may also focus on developing reaction models (scaling relations or kinetic models) or theoretical methods. As a final thought, it is worth noting that in a theoretical/computational research group it is not as difficult as it might be in an experimental lab to work on a project outside of these core areas or to work on several projects in different areas.

Do I need to have previous programming experience to join the group?
Definitely not! While it obviously will help you over the initial learning curve if you have prior programming experience, many students have entered the group with little to no programming experience. Jens does not expect you to have any level of programming experience and it will not prevent you from being a successful graduate student in the group. However, much of our daily work involves interfacing with computers and writing scripts for acquiring and analyzing data, so an interest in computers/programming is important.

What programming languages and software do we use?
We generally use Python to interface with code written in lower-level programming languages. Most group members use the Atomic Simulation Environment (ASE) to manage simulations. The group also develops and maintains a microkinetic analysis package called CatMAP.

How long does it take on average to graduate?
It is a priority for Jens that students graduate on time, which is currently around five years. However, since Jens joined the Chemical Engineering Department at Stanford in 2010, the sample size is quite small and there could be exceptional cases in the future.

Where do students go after graduating?
Again, given the relatively short length of time Jens has been at Stanford this question can be difficult to answer. However, if post-docs are considered along with graduate students, about half of the Nørskov group alumni have gone into academia and half into industry, including companies like BASF, Haldor Topsoe, AT&T, and Intel.

Does the group do any experimental work?
No. But we work closely with experimental groups both in chemical engineering and outside the department.

What are the “perks” of joining this group?
We’ll start with the obvious: being a theoretical/computational scientist means that you can do your work wherever you have an internet connection. That means working from home is not uncommon, and it’s quite convenient to be able to check up on your research when you’re not in the physical area. Another benefit that is specific to being in the Nørskov group at Stanford is our proximity to experimental groups conducting similar research. Given that our offices are in the same hallway as the Bao, Bent, Jaramillo and Cargnello groups, theory-experiment collaborations crop up often, and you can easily communicate with your experimental colleagues.

Things we do for fun:
Typically once or twice a month, the students of the group organize outings to sporting events or karaoke as well as game nights (Pokemon, Resistance/Avalon/Cranium).

Will I get lost in such a large group?
While it is a valid concern for any large group, we don’t feel that this is something that should concern you about joining the Nørskov group. We make an effort to be cohesive via group meetings, a half hour of fika (socializing and snacks) before group meetings, and Friday afternoon socials. In addition to these weekly events, the graduate students join Jens once a month for lunch and the entire group attends a SUNCAT theory retreat annually. With regard to specific research-related questions you may have, staff scientists or Jens will be a point of contact for you whenever needed, and you will find that Jens is always approachable.

What classes are useful for those interested in joining?
Jens teaches CHEMENG 444 (Electronic Structure Theory) in the Winter and CHEMENG 242 (Heterogeneous Catalysis) in the Spring. Electronic Structure Theory provides an introduction to Density Functional Theory, which is the primary tool we use for calculating the energetics of surface-bound chemical intermediates, and Heterogeneous Catalysis details how these energetics are used to model the thermodynamics and kinetics of surface reactions. Following are other classes members from our group have found useful (see for descriptions)

CME 211 - CME 213 (Software Development for Scientists/Engineers)
CHEMENG 432 (Electrochemical Energy Conversion)