Founded in 2013 by the ACS Division of Inorganic Chemistry and Inorganic Chemistry, the annual Inorganic Chemistry Lectureship Award recognizes individuals who have demonstrated creativity and impact in the field of inorganic chemistry. Meet the Recipient Professor Jenny Yang of the University of California, Irvine, is recognized for her advances in inorganic synthetic, mechanistic, kinetic, […]
Meet the Recipient
Professor Jenny Yang of the University of California, Irvine, is recognized for her advances in inorganic synthetic, mechanistic, kinetic, and thermodynamic studies of biomimetic catalysts for carbon-neutral fuel production and utilization.
Learn more about Professor Jenny Yang in this interview.
What does it mean to you to be the recipient of this award?
It’s a tremendous honor to receive this award and a tribute to the talented students, postdoctoral scholars, researchers, and collaborators I have had the privilege of working with in my career thus far. Inorganic Chemistry is a special journal to me. It is where I published my first paper – I was an undergraduate and it made the cover! (Inorg. Chem. 2003, 42, 1403-1419). It is also where I published my first paper after I started as an Assistant Professor at UC Irvine. (Inorg. Chem. 2014, 53(24), 13031-13041). The journal represents all the exciting directions and applications in inorganic chemistry.
Tell me about your career path/how you got to where you are now.
I did not take the conventional path into academia. I completed my B.S. from University of California, Berkeley, working with Professor Jeffrey Long and my Ph.D. with Professor Daniel Nocera at MIT. I then did a postdoc at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory with Dr. Daniel DuBois. After my postdoc, I stayed as a research scientist for three years. At the time I thought I was going to spend my career as a national lab scientist. But then I received an opportunity to work as a research scientist at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis. After that, I started as an Assistant Professor at UC Irvine. Although I was a bit older when I entered academia and felt I had to “start over” as an assistant professor, the extra experience has made me a better scientist and mentor.
What prompted you to study this field of chemistry?
I am broadly interested in research relevant to sustainability and renewable energy. A large part of my research is devoted to catalysis. Many of our targeted reactions are performed by enzymes more efficiently or selectively than any synthetic catalyst, so we are also interested in bioinspired motifs and secondary interactions in catalysis.
What are some of the important applications that you are working on that will benefit society?
Much of the focus of my research over the last few years has been on electrocatalytic fuel generation. Most renewable energy sources are intermittent and diffuse but we can use electricity from these sources to reduce substrates such as H+ to H2 or CO2 to carbon based fuels. These resulting carbon neutral fuels would be more convenient for long-term storage and for transport. Our work in this area has focused on understanding the factors that contribute to overall energy efficiency and product selectivity. We have also worked on appending fuel-forming catalysts to semiconductors for direct solar-to-fuels conversion.
Tell us about your research philosophy.
I think it’s important to continually step back and think about where your science has been and where it is going. Part of that is also periodically asking yourself whether you are working on the most important problems. I do this every time I think of new proposal ideas or start a new project. My group also goes on annual retreats where we take the opportunity to look at the big picture and brainstorm new directions.
What’s next in your research?
We were recently funded by the Sloan Foundation to explore electrochemical CO2 capture and concentration. It’s been incredibly exciting to work on a team with an electrochemical engineer and a computational chemist. Despite delays due to COVID-19 I am excited about the progress we have made. This project also prompted us to think about combined CO2 capture and conversion. Another new direction has been exploring electric field effects on chemical properties and reactivity.
Professor Jenny Yang Recently Published Articles in ACS Journals:
Stabilization of U(III) to Oxidation and Hydrolysis by Encapsulation Using 2.2.2-Cryptand
Inorg. Chem. 2020, 59, 23, 17077–17083
Highly Selective Electrocatalytic CO2 Reduction by [Pt(dmpe)2]2+ through Kinetic and Thermodynamic Control
Organometallics 2020, 39, 9, 1491–1496
Decoupling Kinetics and Thermodynamics of Interfacial Catalysis at a Chemically Modified Black Silicon Semiconductor Photoelectrode
ACS Energy Lett. 2020, 5, 6, 1848–1855