UC funds new California Interfacial Science Institute

January 30, 2023

clean water

The College of Chemistry is pleased to announce the founding of the California Interfacial Science Institute (CISI), recently funded through the UC Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives (MRPI), a program administered by the UC Office of the President. The CISI started as an “Initiative,” and after a successful two-year pilot, has been continued as an “Institute” consisting of 11 investigators across seven UC campuses and national laboratories led by Prof. Michael Zuerch at UC Berkeley. The CISI’s purpose is to coordinate and consolidate theoretical and experimental expertise across the UC system to build a world-leading center for interfacial science.

Understanding interfacial chemistry at a microscopic level is crucial for a wide array of grand challenges in science, ranging from clean energy production in solar materials to low power electronics and environmental remediation. Building upon the unique methods developed and important breakthroughs from the pilot phase, the CISI will expand research directions to complex chemical phenomena at interfaces between all three states of matter (solid, liquid, and gas) relevant for CO2 capture, electrocatalysis, and batteries, as well as provide fundamental insights into local electric field and dielectric effects relevant to interfacial chemistry. Research insights developed with this program will enable the rational design of next-generation technologies that will benefit the people of California and around the world.

Jacob Spies, Arnold O. Beckman Fellow and Zuerch Lab member stated, “We are very excited about the expansion of this program. For example, we know that immersing a material in water can significantly alter the properties that we observe. However, we do not always have a complete picture of the interface where these phases interact and how they might influence reactivity. This program carries on our exciting two years of progress working with top class scientists across the UC system to tackle critical interfacial questions that would very likely be intractable without a concerted team effort. The CISI creates a collaborative environment where ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ in terms of the scientific insights gained.”

In addition to these scientific directions, the CISI will incorporate expanded educational resources, an outreach program, and intercampus exchange opportunities for both trainees and faculty. The CISI will initiate a summer undergraduate research fellowship program (CISI-SURF) this year that will allow undergraduate students to engage in interfacial science research. Unlike similar fellowship programs, CISI-SURF will provide funding for two consecutive summers where fellows will work with an experimentalist one summer and a theorist for another summer with the opportunity to work on two different UC campuses.

Researchers involved in the CISI are leading the development of extreme-ultraviolet second harmonic generation spectroscopy (XUV-SHG), a novel nonlinear X-ray spectroscopy, to probe interfacial properties relevant for numerous applications ranging from liquid interfaces to energy materials with element specificity. Using this technique, CISI researchers studied a variety of chemically relevant interfaces in the preceding 2-year pilot period of this grant. A body of research focused on lithium-containing compounds where lithium, which is notoriously hard to obtain signals from, plays a defining role towards the material properties. In one example the researchers investigated a prototypical solid-state electrolyte and battery material and found vibrationally inhibited ion conductivity, which is an important aspect in developing improved batteries.

About this program:

The UC Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives supports innovative multicampus research collaborations that strengthens UC’s position as a leading public research university. These awards are intended to facilitate outstanding research and cutting-edge discoveries. The CISI was awarded nearly $1.1M in direct funding over the next three years, with approximately $300k allocated to research in the College of Chemistry at UC Berkeley. Prof. Richard Saykally from the College of Chemistry will also be a participant in the program.

For more information about the research in this program, contact Michael Zuerch at mwz@berkeley.edu.