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Huifang Xu - Research Activities

Research in Materials Science


Fig. 7Above: Reduced band bending (a) and enhanced charge separation (b) in titania nanocrystals in presence of tourmaline (Yeredla and Xu, 2008, Journal of Physical Chemistry C)

♦ Smart minerals for environmental clean up and renewable energy generation
Developing materials with enhanced performance for energy generation and environmental clean up will benefit our society for solving challenging energy and environment issues we are facing today and will face in future. Certain minerals have unique properties, like semiconducting, strong electrical polarity, and piezoelectric property. We investigate (1) integration of semiconductor nano-crystals with tourmaline micro-crystals (with strong electrical polarity) to enhance quantum efficiency of the photo-catalysts (for harvesting solar energy); (2) Piezoelectrochemical Effect (convert mechanical energy into chemical energy directly through catalysts of piezoelectric crystals). This research has been supported by the Graduate School of University of Wisconsin.


♦ Clay-polymer nanocomposites for the Geoenvironment
The proposed research involves modifying bentonite at the nanoscale so that the mineral structure remains in the osmotic swollen state under adverse conditions.  Large organic molecules will be inserted between the montmorillonite layers and then polymerized to form a stable interconnected structure that "props" open the montmorillonite layers. Polymerization of these molecules after insertion will yield a more rigid structure that retains the large organic molecules between the layers, providing permanence.  This modified material, or bentonite-polymer nanocomposites, is expected to retain the useful advantages of conventional bentonites, while being resistant to long-term instability. This is a NSF-supported collaborative research with Professors Craig Benson and Tuncer Edil in Civil Engineering.



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