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Catalytic Reaction and Catalyst Characterization Laboratory

Human health, prosperity and happiness depend upon a stable earth environment that has existed largely unchanged for the last 10,000 years. As the world faces the frightening reality of climate change driven by consumption of fossil fuels upsetting this world order, we must find ways to modify energy collection, storage and consumption with sustainable alternatives. Research in the Catalytic Reaction and Catalyst Characterization Laboratory, led by Dr. Michael Smith, associate professor of Chemical Engineering, aims to develop nanostructured materials as adsorbents and catalysts for energy storage and transformation. Despite decades of research, there are any number of opportunities for development of novel materials for new applications, such as:

  • Biomass conversion
  • Batteries
  • Photocatalysts
  • Exhaust gas remediation
  • High-temperature CO2 capture
  • Drug delivery
  • Cost effective, sustainable alternatives for catalysts such as platinum

An important method for developing new and novel nano-structured materials uses molecular self-assembly processes; for example, organic micelles can act as templates to build nanostructure into the synthesis of inorganic materials. In our labs, we:

  • Synthesize nanostructured materials using traditional wet-chemistry methods
  • Characterize them using nitrogen adsorption, SAXS and electron microscopy
  • Functionalize them to conduct useful chemistry
  • Test our materials in catalytic or adsorption applications

We collaborate extensively with Villanova Chemical Engineering Associate Research Professor Chuck Coe in the development of materials for CO2 capture and gas separations. We also collaborate with groups external to Villanova:

  • Department of Inorganic Chemistry at the Fritz-Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society in Berlin, Germany
  • Professor Rob Rioux at Penn State University
  • Professor Ray Gorte at the University of Pennsylvania


The Catalytic Reaction and Catalyst Characterization Laboratory is equipped with:

  • Micromeritics ASAP 2020 for both chemi (with H2 and CO) - and physisorption analysis (for surface area, pore volume, catalyst dispersion)
  • Quantachrome Nova 2000 nitrogen gas analyzer (for surface area and pore volume)
  • Glove box with inert N2 atmosphere, for rigorous control of environment during sample preparation
  • Perkin Elmer System 2000 FTIR with Harrick Praying Mantis DRIFTS cell and environmental chamber
  • Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD) apparatus for precise, layer-by-layer deposition of metals and metal oxides for creation of unique functional materials.  Constructed in-house from designs developed at University of Pennsylvania.
  • Rigaku Miniflex  X-ray diffractometer for powder XRD diffraction analysis


Dr. Michael Smith

Dr. Michael Smith, Associate Professor, Chemical Engineering
Lab location: White 312

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