Chemistry and Physics at Interfaces

Chemical transformations and physical phenomena at gas, liquid and solid interfaces lie at the heart of today’s energy technologies. They underpin ORNL’s research strategies to deliver scientific discoveries and technical breakthroughs that will accelerate the development and deployment of solutions in clean energy. Understanding, predicting and controlling the structure, transport and reactivity at interfaces will lead to advances in both in fundamental and use-inspired science. These advances will lead to further technologies advances in: catalysis, corrosion, energy storage, geosciences, nanoscience, photovolatics, polymer science, separations, superconductivity, and thermoelectrics. 

By utilizing ORNL’s signature strengths in materials synthesis and characterization, neutron scattering, and theory, modeling and simulation, the key technical challenges and bottlenecks in chemistry and physics at interfaces are being addressed. For example, to gain a better understanding and control over the chemistry and charge transfer at the electrode-electrolyte interface in energy storage devices, well defined interfaces are prepared by precise synthesis of electrode architectures and electrolytes, quasielastic and inelastic neutron scattering, and optical spectroscopy. Nuclear magnetic resonance is used to characterize the structure, dynamics, and reactions at the interfaces; and classic molecular dynamics and ab initio molecular dynamics are used to gain predictive insights into improving the stability and performance of energy storage device. The ability to bring together a multidisciplinary research team to address and solve complex problems is one of the hallmarks of ORNL science and technology.

Research Highlights

Key to mechanical reinforcement of glassy polymer nanocomposites has been unraveled

Scientists have unraveled details of the mechanism of mechanical reinforcement in glassy polymer nanocomposites.1 Measurements in the interfacial layer ~2–4 nm around nanoparticles revealed that Young’s modulus, which defines the relationship between stress and strain in a...

Strategy shown for novel tire-derived carbon anodes for sodium-ion batteries

Researchers have demonstrated a process to prepare morphologically tailored carbon materials with good electrochemical capacity Shown are scanning transmission electron microscopy of sulfonated tire-derived carbon treated at 1,100oC (left) and data from a long-...

Selective Crystallization of Sulfate-Water Clusters

An effective approach to sulfate separation from aqueous solutions was developed based on crystallization of sulfate-water clusters with a simple ligand self-assembled in situ from water-soluble subcomponents. 

With a free energy of hydration of –1080 kJ/mol, sulfate is one of...