Kittilstved, Colleagues Receive Grant for State-of-the-Art Powder X-ray Diffractometer

Kevin Kittilsved
Kevin Kittilsved

A team of chemists and chemical engineering researchers led by Kevin Kittilstved, assistant professor of chemistry, has received a $259,528 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Major Research Instrumentation program to acquire a new, state-of-the-art powder X-ray diffractometer. The colleges of Natural Sciences and Engineering, plus the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement, will contribute another $111,227 toward the purchase.

Kittilstved says the new apparatus, expected to be put into service in early 2018, will enable researchers on campus to monitor the crystallographic properties of various materials under extreme reaction conditions, such as cryogenic temperatures to around -280 degrees Fahrenheit, and temperatures greater than hot lava, over 2,200 degrees F. His co-investigators on the successful proposal are Dhandapani Venkataraman, chemistry, with Friederike Jentoft and Wei Fan, chemical engineering.

“The new X-ray diffractometer will allow us to study the composition and structure of solid materials we make in our labs under controlled variables including temperature, humidity and atmosphere.In addition, the instrument will also be used to enhance the undergraduate chemistry curriculum,” Kittilstvedsays.

As he explains, “A powder X-ray diffractometer probes solid materials with X-rays to reveal their internal composition and structure. Successful research conducted with this instrument enables investigators to synthesize new materials with the potential to promote society’s transition to sustainable fuels and energy.”

The instrument is not only being integrated into the undergraduate and graduate chemistry curriculum, but it will also be used for several outreach programs to area schools, teachers, students and their parents.

Kittilstved will use the instrument in his inorganic materials laboratory to monitor the thermal stabilities of various crystallographic phases of multifunctional inorganic materials. “My research will use the powder diffractometer to monitor the effect of impurities on the lattice structure of molecular clusters that have relevance to emerging technologies such as quantum dot LEDs used in TVs and displays.”

The diffractometer expands the materials structural characterization capabilities in the Five College Consortium in western Massachusetts, which includes UMass Amherst and Mount Holyoke, Amherst, Hampshire and Smith colleges.“This instrument will enable new avenues of research that otherwise would be difficult to pursue and would require traveling outside of western Massachusetts. Now researchers on our campus, at nearby colleges and potential partners from industry will be able to perform various experiments on their materials in simulated working conditions that are  typical for industrial catalysts and next-generation materials for solar cells,” Kittilstved said.