Stephen FitzGerald of Oberlin College is supported by an award from the Chemical Structures, Dynamics and Mechanisms program in the Chemistry division to use infrared spectroscopy to study the quantum dynamics of adsorbed gases within a class of porous materials known as metal-organic frameworks. This research probes the interaction potential at a particular adsorption site and the importance of quantum confinement effects, associated with zero-point energy. The work provides a direct experimental test of recent efforts to model van der Waals interactions and quantum fluctuations within complex materials. Undergraduate students are central to all aspects of this work from the design and construction of the specialized equipment, to the data acquisition, to the analysis, to the writing of the manuscripts for publication.
The research contributes to the ongoing effort to develop materials for hydrogen storage critical for the use of hydrogen fuel cells in automobiles. These materials will also enable the selective capture of carbon dioxide which is vital to natural gas purification and environmental efforts aimed at carbon sequestration. The nature of this project is particularly appropriate to the training of undergraduate students, in that the topic is well-connected to coursework but broad in its possible applications. Students will gain extensive hands-on laboratory experience of importance for graduate school and other technical careers.