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Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

PhD student Daniel Bregante wins award from ARCS Foundation

Congratulations to graduate student Daniel Bregante, who was among a select group of Illinois students chosen for a Scholar Award from the ARCS Foundation.

Founded in 1958, the ARCS Foundation was established by and is run entirely by women. Its mission is to boost American leadership and aid advancement in science and technology. To address the country’s need for new scientists and engineers, the foundation provides unrestricted funding to help the country’s brightest graduate and undergraduate students create new knowledge and innovative technologies.

Bregante was among nine students in the state chosen for the award this year by the Illinois chapter of ARCS.

Daniel Bregante

He is a member of Professor David Flaherty’s research group and is in the process of completing his dissertation, “Unraveling Inner- and Outer-Sphere Interactions that Impact Catalysis at the Liquid-Solid Interface.”

Molecular interactions at solid-liquid interfaces can have profound effects on the stability of species that form during catalysis and separations. These interactions become increasingly complex when the solvent and reactive species are confined within nanopores (<1 nm in diameter). Bregante’s research focuses on understanding how the structuring and restructuring of solvent molecules within these nanopores during a chemical reaction leads to changes in catalysis.

His findings have shown that the presence of polar “defects” within the pores of Lewis acid zeolites (i.e., an epoxidation catalyst) leads to increases in rates and selectivities for alkene epoxidation (a multi-billion-dollar industry) by a factor of 100. These results directly contradict conventional wisdom, that states hydrophobic pores leads to the greatest yields. His work has shown, non-intuitively, that the polarity mis-match between hydrophobic surface species and water leads to increases in stability, and thus higher rates. These findings and the conceptual framework developed will provide a broader understanding for interactions between solvents, surfaces, and reactive species, and provide a basis to understand how similar restructuring events may impact critical intermediates within other research fields.

Bregante will be given the award at the ARCS annual reception in Chicago in October. As part of the event, he and fellow scholars will present research posters at the reception.

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