Maple League Mid-term Progress Report Semi-Conductors Fundamental and Applied Photochemical Research

Updated: Dec 13, 2021

Investigators: Dr. Geniece Hallett-Tapley (St. FX), Dr. Matthew Lukeman (Acadia)

The Maple League funded nine projects in 2019/2020 to promote and facilitate collaborative research, innovative teaching, spring and international field study programs, and travel amongst the four campuses. We are delighted to share, in a series called the Maple League Funding Spotlight, progress reports from these projects. We are particularly interested in the insights and impact these funded projects have had on their communities in the time of COVID. We had a chance to sit down with Dr. Hallett-Tapley from Acadia University to talk about their project and learn more about collaboration across the four universities.

JESSICA RIDDELL (EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE MAPLE LEAGUE): The guiding question that animates all our Maple League collaborations is: “What can we do together that we cannot do on our own?” How does this resonate with the project you’ve undertaken?

DR. GENIECE HALLETT-TAPLEY, PRINCIPAL INVESTGATOR (ST. FX UNIVERSITY): Dr. Lukeman and I had been discussing the intriguing nature of long-lived phosphor (LLP) powders for some time and, in particular, the ready availability and the cost-effectiveness of these light activated compounds. Using our collective backgrounds, we began discussing possibility of combining Dr. Lukeman’s fundamental photophysical knowledge on these unique compounds, with my background in light-activated nanoparticle catalyst design in Summer 2018. While interesting, our current facilities at St. FX cannot support in-depth analysis of the photophysical properties of a new hybrid composite of the two (LLP/nanoparticle), while current capacity at Acadia would not allow for testing of these materials. Thus, this new project direction showcases how the collaborative discussions between two faculty members at primarily undergraduate institutions can be brought to the lab bench through funding streams, such as the Maple League Research Fund, that support interinstitutional relationships. More simply put, this project is a wonderful example of “what we can do together that we cannot do on our own”.


Light sources used in the research


JR: How does your project benefit from working and learning in relationship-rich environments?

GHT: The current project has included initially one junior chemistry student, who is set to continue into the honours stream. Future plans for inclusion of another student into this project are set to being in Summer 2021. The current student at the helm of this project was introduced into the lab environment and both photophysics/nanoparticle chemistry for the very first time this past summer. She was a member of my group, along with 3 other students, with all the projects having the same underlying fundamentals of light-activated nanoparticles. Though travel to Acadia was not allowed to achieve the full, interdisciplinary experience, my student still managed to gain a very impressive grasp on the fundamentals of her project due to continued discussion in our lab. It was impressive to see these 4, young female students, support each other through, what was undoubtedly, the most trying research summer we will face. Through discussions in the lab environment, the student assigned to the Maple League funded research rapidly began to progress on the work, was able to rapidly trouble shoot any issues that arose and also gained a vast amount of knowledge on many experimental techniques. I, wholeheartedly, feel that this amount of progression in knowledge, both fundamental and hands on, is a direct testament to the supportive working environment with her fellow lab mates. I am optimistic that we can continue to build on this relationship-rich working culture in the coming summer and expand our work to the Chemistry Department at Acadia University.

Student funded by the Maple League Research Fund


JR: What kind of impact do you hope to have — on your own work, on institutional cultures, or beyond the academy — with your project?

GHT: The Maple League funded work has showcased the importance collaborations between the Maple League institutions. It is an avenue to progress research ideas to student-led projects. Through participation in this initiative, it has allowed me to strengthen the collaborative ties at my alma matter (Acadia) and improve the diversity of the research being undertaken in my lab at St. FX. Moreover, it has also allowed others at our institutions to see that meaningful, collaborative research is possible (and fundable) at primarily undergraduate institutions. Finally, I feel the model of the Maple League is a terrific approach to exposing students to truly interdisciplinary work and provides an avenue for students to expand their knowledge base, breaking down typical silos commonly associated with scientific research, and producing, on the whole, more well-rounded students from both participating institutions.

JR: Has the global pandemic affected your project and/or your understanding of collaboration? If so, why? If not, why?

GHT: Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic had a major impact on this collaboration. While our discussions continued, virtually, the student was unable to travel to Acadia to partake in the fundamental photophysical measurements of our new class of LLP/nanoparticle catalysts. We anticipate completing this aspect of the work this summer, as the student is still employed in my lab and endeavours to begin her honours research work, focused on the Maple League Funded projects. Moreover, due to strict COVID restrictions at the beginning of the summer research season, my students were only permitted to come to the lab beginning in July and also commenced in person research in shifts. This results in only 2-3 days a week of work, which transitioned to full time by August 1. None the less, the student associated with this work completed an impressive amount of study on this topic and managed to design and test 5 LLP/nanoparticle catalysts, with varying degrees of success. These findings have allowed us to continue to optimize our reaction conditions. Given this, the remaining Maple League Research Funds, upon approval of the Maple League Grant Selection Committee, will be used to continue to fund this student in Summer 2021 towards completion of this work.

Interested in learning more? Here is a brief description of the project:

The current project examines the development of a multi-layered material comprised of long-lived phosphors (LLP), nanoparticles and solid (semiconductor) materials. LLP are commonly found in many, low cost, glow-in-the-dark materials and are viable alternatives towards the design of more energetically and cost-effective catalysts. Upon exposure to low energy, red light (630 nm), LLP are rapidly promoted to a high energy state that is dissipated via emission of green (530 nm) light. This emitted light is of an adequate energy to excite incorporated gold nanoparticle species and induce many of the well-studied catalytic properties of these materials. Functionalization of a solid semiconductor support with both LLP and nanoparticles allows for the design of a catalyst can potentially be recovered and reused, improving the environmental sustainability of this process. LLP/nanoparticle/semiconductor hybrids are currently being examined as possible catalysts for the oxidation of various aromatic alcohol molecules, due to the high importance of this chemical transformation in many industrial and pharmaceutical procedures. Tradiational alcohol oxidations require the use of toxic reagents, a drawback that the current research aims to address using low energy sources (red light) and predominantly non-toxic materials. LLP/nanoparticle catalysed oxidations will be optimized from the perspective of reaction time, light intensity and catalyst concentration to determine the minimum required amount of each variable to induce an effective transformation.

Photo of an LLP/nanoparticle/semi-conductor hybrid emitting green light following excitation


Contact us:

For more information about this project, contact Dr. Geniece Hallett-Tapley at ghallett@stfx.ca.

For more information on funding opportunities, visit: http://mapleleague.ca/about/funding-opportunities/

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