Assistant Professor (b. 1978)
B.A., 2000, Rice University; Ph.D., 2005, Harvard University
NIH Postdoctoral Fellow, 2006-2009; Eli Lilly New Faculty Award, 2009
Chemistry Research Area: 
Chemistry Research Area: 

Principal Research Interests

My group pursues new strategies to address outstanding problems in homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis. We are interested in two general challenges: the control of the selectivity of C-C and C-X bond-forming reactions for organic synthesis and the development of efficient electrocatalysts for energy conversion processes. Our research environment is highly interdisciplinary.

Current strategies for controlling selectivity in chemical reactions rely principally on molecular recognition elements. As an alternative strategy, we are developing catalysts and catalyst–surface interfaces that exploit non-bonding electrostatic interactions to control selectivity. We are particularly interested in using externally applied interfacial electric fields to modulate the activation barriers of competing reactive pathways. We have designed a reaction cell wherein the charge density at an electrode surface coated with an insulating layer can be controlled by a voltage source. By confining catalysts to this interface, we can study the effect of strong local electric fields on reactions mediated by these catalysts. Additionally, we are developing molecular catalysts with strategically placed ionic functionalities to maximize the influence of ion pairing and solvent effects on selectivity. The ultimate goals of these efforts are to link selectivity to readily adjustable external parameters and to address selectivity challenges that are particularly difficult for traditional approaches.. 

The ability to convert H2O, CO2 and N2 into fuels using renewable energy inputs could in principle provide a viable alternative to the current dominance of fossil fuels. This prospect faces great technical challenges, the foremost of which is the lack of efficient and robust electrocatalysts for the various multi-electron processes that fuel synthesis demands. We are working to address this deficiency for the two most challenging reactions: CO2 reduction and N2 reduction. Our efforts focus on developing new heterogeneous electrocatalysts and unveiling the electrochemical mechanisms by which these catalysts operate. Materials of particular interest include metal/metal oxide composites and nanostructured metal surfaces. The ultimate goals of this research area are to develop catalyst design principles that are applicable to multiple materials and to provide viable candidate electrode materials for electrolytic devices.

Representative Publications

1. Interfacial Electric Field Effects on a Carbene Reaction Catalyzed by Rh Porphyrins,” C.F. Gorin, E.S. Beh, Q.M. Bui, G.R. Dick, M.W. Kanan, J. Am. Chem. Soc.135, 11257–11265 (2013)

2. “Aqueous CO2 Reduction at Very Low Overpotential on Oxide-Derived Au Nanoparticles,” Y. Chen; C.W. Li; M.W. Kanan, J. Am. Chem. Soc.134, 19969–19972 (2012)

3. “CO2 Reduction at Low Overpotential on Cu electrodes Resulting from the Reduction of Thick Cu2O Films,” C.W. Li and M.W. Kanan, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 134, 7231–7234 (2012)

4. Tin Oxide Dependence of the CO2 Reduction Efficiency on Tin Electrodes and Enhanced Efficiency for Tin/Tin Oxide Thin-Film Catalysts,” Y. Chen and M.W. Kanan, J. Am. Chem. Soc.134, 1986-1989 (2012)

5. An Electric Field–Induced Change in the Selectivity of a Metal Oxide–Catalyzed Epoxide Rearrangement, C.F. Gorin, E.S. Beh, and M.W. Kanan, J. Am. Chem. Soc.134, 186-189 (2012)