Predictable Assembly of Ordered Heterojunctions Using Covalent Organic Frameworks
Dichtel’s research combines the most advanced techniques in synthetic chemistry to create new materials with unprecedented structural precision. Dichtel has developed considerable expertise in what chemists term, “self-assembly. ”It is the process by which molecules adopt a defined arrangement without guidance or management from an outside source. Self-assembly is increasingly used in the micro-lithography of electronics as well as the construction of nanodevices – incredibly tiny machines about the width of a human hair. As a teacher Dichtel is responsible for imparting the fundamentals of organic chemistry to roughly 650 Cornell undergraduates. He has also played a major role in updating chemistry classes, and helped to make improvements to the freshman curriculum. His collaboration with another Cornell assistant professor, Jiwoon Park, has led to the development of two new courses for chemistry majors on nanomaterials. Dichtel received the Cottrell Scholar Award based on his peer-reviewed proposal that included both research and teaching projects. Dichtel’s CSA research project involves using his skills in molecular self-assembly techniques in an attempt to improve efficiencies in the generation of electricity directly from sunlight. Specifically, he will work with organic polymers – cheap, readily available materials that include carbon atoms (hence “organic”). Polymers, organic or otherwise, come in long molecular chains, structures that are found in various forms in everything from plastic bags to the DNA inside our cells. Dichtel will be working with conjugated polymers, that is, molecules with double electron bonds that alternate with single electron bonds, giving them some ability to conduct electrical charge. He will be trying to combine them with what are called covalent organic frameworks, basically crystalline molecular structures with plenty of open space to store smaller molecules, in the hope of making them more effective at generating and transporting electricity from sunlight. It is a difficult, high-risk project – the type of research RCSA is increasingly funding. Meanwhile, Dichtel’s Cottrell Scholar education project involves making two major changes in Cornell’s chemistry curriculum. He will develop additional instructional material in nanoscience that draws on existing concepts in organic, inorganic, physical and analytical chemistry. This task will involve creating a new lecture course and an upper division laboratory beginning in the next academic year. He also plans to restructure Cornell’s introductory and organic chemistry course material for advanced first- and second-year students.