Author Profile: Richard Brutchey

Richard Brutchey talks about his research on nanocrystals and expanding the synthetic toolbox

Richard Brutchey1. Which research projects are you working on at the moment?
We are developing new methods for synthesizing complex metal oxide and chalcogenide nanocrystals.  Once we’ve developed a route and collected materials, we are currently putting a lot of effort into controlling the surface chemistry of the resulting nanocrystals.  Since small nanocrystals are predominantly surface, this is extremely important and necessary if one wants to extract any utility from these materials into a functional device.  Along those lines, we are focusing on devices for energy conversion and storage.  We are using our metal chalcogenide nanocrystals for low-cost solar cells and our metal oxide nanocrystals for dielectric capacitors.  As a synthetic chemist, I get great satisfaction when a material my group has made and labored over ends up in a device that actually works well!

2. What motivated you to focus on the synthesis and properties of nanocrystals?
Organic chemists possess an incredibly powerful toolbox of reaction chemistry that allows them to rationally design molecules with desired functionality.  Unfortunately, the toolbox for rationally designing functional inorganic nanocrystals is severely lacking.  Moreover, many synthetic preps for inorganic nanocrystals are plagued by impurities, work-up issues, low yields, and irreproducibility.  The concept of “materials by design” will never get off the ground with the existing limited design space.  We got into this area thinking we could add some synthetic perspective to the problem.

3. What are the hot topics in materials chemistry at the moment?
We shouldn’t compound the difficulty of solving our energy problems by using materials that are untenable in the long term.  I think some of the most interesting materials currently being explored are those that are made up of earth abundant elements and are also as environmentally benign as possible.  The real trick is then making that sustainable material as good as the toxic ones comprised of rare elements!

4. What current problem would you like to see science provide a solution to?
Water is quickly becoming the next global crisis.  Therefore, I think the materials chemistry community needs to spend much more intellectual capital on ways to inexpensively provide clean water to those in developing countries.

5. What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of your career?
Seeing my students make an impact on a problem that they have independently identified and pursued.

6. What’s the secret to being a successful scientist?
I won’t presume to personally know what it takes to be a successful scientist, but I have observed that those that are most successful are able to identify the right problems at the right times, and then devote every fiber of their being to solving them.  Students should know that a great deal of luck also factors into the equation as well.

7. Which scientist past or present do you most admire?
I would have liked to meet Jeremy Burdett (1947-1997).  Much of my understanding of structure and bonding is a result of his excellent books on the subject.

8. If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be?
Less anxious and more well rested.

If you’d like to learn more about research in the Brutchey lab you can read some of their latest articles below or follow them on Twitter.

  1. Nanocrystal Ligand Exchange with 1,2,3,4-thiatriazole-5-thiolate and its Facile In-situ Conversion to Thiocyanate: D. H. Webber and R. L. Brutchey, Dalton Transactions, 2012, 41, 7835-7838.
  2. Local Structural Distortion of BaZrxTi1-xO3 Nanocrystals Synthesized at Room Temperature: F. A. Rabuffetti and R. L. Brutchey, Chemical Communications, 2012, 48, 1437-1439.
  3. Tin and Germanium Monochalcogenide IV–VI Semiconductor Nanocrystals for Use in Solar Cells: P. D. Antunez, J. J. Buckley and R. L. Brutchey, Nanoscale, 2011, 3, 2399-2411.
  4. Flow-Focused Synthesis of Monodisperse Gold Nanoparticles Using Ionic Liquids on a Microfluidic Platform: L. L. Lazarus, A. S.-J. Yang, S. Chu, R. L. Brutchey and N. Malmstadt, Lab on a Chip, 2010, 10, 3377-3379.
  5. Low-Temperature Synthesis of Solid-Solution BaxSr1-xTiO3 Nanocrystals: C. W. Beier, M. A. Cuevas and R. L. Brutchey, Journal of Materials Chemistry, 2010, 20, 5074-5079.
  6. Photolytic Preparation of Tellurium Nanorods: D. H. Webber and R. L. Brutchey, Chemical Communications, 2009, 5701-5703.

Richard Brutchey is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the University of Southern California.  He received his B.S. in Chemistry from the University of California, Irvine (2000) and his Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley (2005) under the guidance of Prof. T. Don Tilley.  After a post-doctoral fellowship with Prof. Daniel E. Morse at the University of California, Santa Barbara, he began his independent career in 2007.  The Brutchey group focuses on the design of rational synthetic routes to inorganic nanocrystals for use in solar energy conversion and energy storage applications.  Prof. Brutchey was named a Cottrell Scholar by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement in 2010.

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