Prestigious two million euro ERC funding for photocatalyst research at University of Oulu

A prestigious Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) has been awarded to Associate Professor Dr. Wei Cao at the University of Oulu, Finland. The 2M€ grant is to support a project entitled of “Cross-dimensional Activation of Two-Dimensional Semiconductors for Photocatalytic Heterojunctions”. Photocatalyst developments will follow materials properties regulated by spatial dimensions and photocatalysis studies consider time dependences of chemical reactions.
Associate Professor Wei Cao standing in front of lab equipment

Spacetime defines space and time of existence of matters. For instance, sustainability can be viewed as human’s ability to main wellbeing on earth (space) in the future (time). A critical path to the sustainability is emphasized on photocatalysis. Similar to photosynthesis to produce sugar and oxygen from water and CO2 under sunlight, photocatalysis ends up in pollutant removal or hydrogen evolution from water with the presence of photocatalytic media. While tremendous engineering efforts have been emphasized on catalyst innovations, photocatalytic efficiencies are not satisfactory in practical applications.

Spacetime was also considered well defining dimensionality of materials, e.g., 3-dimensional (3D) bulk, 2-dimensional (2D) surface, 1-dimensional (1D) nanowires, and 0-dimensional (0D) atoms etc. However, the monolayer graphene broke definition boundary by realizing a dimensionally paradoxical concept of “atomic (0D) crystal (3D)” in 2D. As relatives to graphene, the 2D semiconductors inherit the paradox but owns semiconductive feature that enables them to be the main bodies of photocatalysis. A question comes: can these dimensionally unique 2D semiconductors break the deadlock of practical photocatalysis for human’s sustainability?

In this ERC project, Dr. Cao and his team will bring dimensionality features into creations of high-performance heterojunctional photocatalysts. The processes are emphasized on activations of dimensionally paradoxical 2D semiconductors by decorating materials from other dimensions and engineering the interfaces. Photocatalytic activities of these 2D slabs are expected to have substantial improvements and meet criteria for practical applications. The time evolution during the photocatalysis will be elucidated to unveil chemical reaction steps leading to water purification and hydrogen production.

Different from most materials engineering routes, the present project will groundbreakingly elucidate engineering sophistications at the fundamental physic level. Debuting from the study of materials dimensionality, the project is expected to break the deadlock of practical photocatalysis that eventually leads to sustainability.

The project will strengthen Dr. Cao’s Functional Materials Group in the Nano and Molecular Research Unit, University of Oulu. The group continuously advances researches in biomimicry, advanced steels, and photocatalysis. It has been built and developed since the beginning of Dr. Cao’s arrival in Oulu 2012, shortly after his postdoc in Canada and Ph.D in Switzerland.

Last updated: 25.1.2021