Daniel G. Nocera

Harvard University


Election Year: 2009
Primary Section: 14, Chemistry
Membership Type: Member

Research Interests

Nocera studies of the basic mechanisms of energy conversion in biology and chemistry with primary focus in recent years on the generation of solar fuels from water and sunlight. Solar fuel reactions require the coupling of multielectron processes to protons, which are energetically uphill, thus requiring a light input. Nocera opened the field of multielectron photochemistry by creating and generalizing the concept of two-electron mixed-valency in chemistry. He created the field of proton-coupled electron transfer (PCET) at a mechanistic level by designing systems that permitted the timing of the electron and proton using time-resolved laser spectroscopy. With the frameworks of multielectron and PCET chemistry in place, Nocera constructed the first molecule to produce hydrogen photocatalytically from homogeneous solution. Hydrogen production, however, represents one half of the water splitting problem. Oxygen also needs to be produced from water. Employing simple materials, Nocera has created the first self-healing catalysts. The self-healing properties of the catalysts permit their use in natural and waste waters, and thus allow solar energy to be stored under benign conditions. The function of the catalysts capture the solar fuels process of photosynthesis outside of the leaf - the splitting of water to hydrogen and oxygen using light from natural water, at atmospheric pressure and room temperature. Because water splitting may be performed under extremely inexpensive conditions, these catalysts enable the large scale deployment of solar energy by providing a mechanism for its storage as a fuel. The new storage mechanism is particularly poised to provide the poor with a distributed solar energy supply.

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