Hongliang Xin, assistant professor of chemical engineering at Virginia Tech, has received a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation.

With the five-year, $549,468 CAREER project titled “Bayesian Model of Chemisorption for Adsorbate-Specific Tuning of Electrocatalysis,” Xin plans to investigate, through quantum chemistry and data science, the possibility of improving the energy efficiency of electrochemical ammonia oxidation involved in ammonia sensing, wastewater treatment, and direct ammonia fuel cells. Ultimately, the research will aid the discovery of next generation energy materials for fuel cells that combine fuels and oxygen to produce electricity driving motors in fuel cell vehicles.

Xin’s strategy is to develop physical models by learning from accurate quantum-chemical simulations. This will enhance understanding of why certain materials work well as catalysts and therefore, the design of catalysts properties can be further improved. Furthermore, the fundamental knowledge from the project will help guide the design of more efficient electrocatalysts, not only for ammonia-related applications, but also for a broad range of energy and environmental technologies. 

“I am truly honored to receive the NSF CAREER award,” said Xin. “This grant will allow our group to pursue cutting-edge research on fundamental catalysis, while developing teaching and outreach activities that will enhance recruitment and retention of underrepresented minorities and women in STEM fields.”

The knowledge will bridge the gap between surface science under ultra-high vacuum conditions and electrocatalysis at solid-liquid interfaces, Xin explained.

Xin joined the Virginia Tech community in 2014. His research focuses on the integration of quantum chemistry and data science for understanding mechanisms of catalytic processes and accelerating catalyst discovery. He holds bachelor's and master’s degrees in chemical engineering from Tianjin University and Tsinghua University in China, and a doctoral degree in chemical engineering from the University of Michigan.