Summary – Synthesizing and Testing Complexes as Electrocatalysts

Entering this project, I set a goal of synthesizing a few specific complexes and testing them through electrochemistry to see if they could reduce protons to hydrogen gas.  Hydrogen gas is a source of clean energy, as hydrogen fuel cells produce only electricity, heat, and water.  Having the luxury of being on campus for a full ten weeks instead of just three, I was able to successfully synthesize five complexes.  Each of these required many calculations and multi-step reactions to produce the ligand.  I had to utilize the NMR instrument to generate spectra so that I could analyze the chemical makeup of my products and verify that I had produced the desired molecules.  Then, I took the ligand molecules and complexed them with a metal to form the final product.

After synthesizing each complex, I used an analytical electrochemistry technique known as cyclic voltammetry to see how well the complex reduces protons to hydrogen gas.  Essentially, cyclic voltammetry consists of cycling the potential of an electrode and measuring the current that develops in the cell.  Reduction events will show up as peaks on the scan.  These tests produced promising results and allowed me to begin to compare the complexes for their effectiveness.  Once I perform more tests, I will be able to draw conclusions about how certain molecular features impact a complex’s ability to be an electrocatalyst for proton reduction.

Fortunately, I will be able to continue working on this project throughout the school year.  Thus, I will be able to do more electrochemical tests and synthesize even more complexes to add to the story.  Also, I will need to figure out how to crystallize all of the complexes so that their structures can be analyzed and verified.  Hopefully, I will have a chance to learn some photochemistry and test whether the complexes can be effective photocatalysts.  I look forward to continuing this project and attempting to make a difference in the world of renewable energy.