SUNCAT Director Receives International Award for Catalysis Research

January 15, 2013

Jens Nørskov, who has led the SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis at SLAC and Stanford since its creation in 2010, is the latest recipient of an international award honoring scientific contributions to the study of catalysts, which are integral to many important industrial and biological processes.

The Michel Boudart Award for the Advancement of Catalysis is named after a renowned catalysis expert who died last year after a five-decade career at Stanford University. Presented by the European Federation of Catalysis Societies and North American Catalysis Society, it recognizes contributions within the past five years to the understanding and practice of catalysis and comes with a $6,000 prize.

Nørskov said the award acknowledges the achievements of the entire SUNCAT group, which includes strong collaborations in theory, sophisticated computer modeling and experiments.

"It is a recognition of the team and what we've accomplished," he said. "There is a general message here, in the sense that it is by teaming up that you can really move things in a substantial way – that a national lab in conjunction with a research university can really make a difference and attack the broader classes of problems."

In addition to directing SUNCAT, Nørskov is a professor in Stanford's Department of Chemical Engineering and a member of the Photon Science faculty at SLAC.

Catalysts promote chemical reactions but are not consumed in the reactions. SUNCAT, a partnership between SLAC and Stanford, focuses on better understanding fundamental processes in catalysis, with a goal of designing improved catalysts for enhancing industrial processes and producing alternative fuels and energy sources.

In announcing the award, the presidents of the two catalysis societies highlighted Nørskov's pioneering work in furthering the understanding of trends in catalyst activity and developing new catalyst design principles. They also noted SUNCAT’s role in introducing  "the first database of surface chemical properties" and developing software for the global community to access and mine catalysis information, "thus opening novel opportunities for discovering trends and for designing new catalysts and catalytic processes."

Much progress has been made in the field in the past several years, Nørskov said, particularly in tools that can help predict catalyst performance.

"We are approaching a point where, for certain classes of catalyst materials, we can understand and predict which are the best for promoting a certain reaction," he said.

Using catalysis to create hydrocarbon fuel or alcohol from carbon dioxide, to create and tap artificial photosynthesis as an energy source and to develop new battery technologies are among the hottest areas of catalysis research, he said.

While research has helped expand understanding of simpler materials, the new frontier in catalysis will be defined by "how far we go in terms of moving into new classes of materials that are more complex," he added.