Shedding light on photo-initiated chemical transformations using spectroscopy
Elizabeth Young, Assistant Professor, Chemistry

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Small molecule activation and other energy conversion reactions are critical to the production of fuels that society requires to function. When the small molecule activation occurs with assistance from solar photons, the solar fuels produced from them become part of a renewable energy cycle. Likewise, production of solar energy from photovoltaics adds directly to our renewable energy portfolio. At their core, these energy conversion processes are driven by fundamental photo-induced charge transfer reactions. To understand these chemical processes and drive innovation, fundamental, mechanistic understanding of charge transfer is critically important to connect molecular structure with chemical reactivity. In this presentation, I will discuss a critical spectroscopic technique called transient absorption spectroscopy that allows my group to construct mechanics understanding of photo-induced chemical reactions. The presentation will include several examples of the application of transient absorption spectroscopy to answering important research problems.

Elizabeth R. Young grew up in eastern Pennsylvania. She attended Haverford College as an undergraduate where she majored in Chemistry and minored in German, while also playing intercollegiate soccer and squash. As an undergraduate researcher, Liz worked in with Prof. Julio de Paula on porphyrin-peptide nano-wires – during which time her love of photochemistry and spectroscopy was ignited.  After completing her undergraduate studies, Liz spent a year abroad in Germany as a participant in the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals. While in Germany, Liz learned about the German culture and language while working in the biophysical laboratory of Prof. Dr. Joachim Spatz at the University of Heidelberg. Upon returning to the U.S., she attended graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology earning a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry. Her work in the laboratory of Prof. Daniel G. Nocera focused on photo-induced charge transfer coupled to proton motions in small-molecule donor-acceptor systems. Liz then spent two years as an NSF ACC-F post-doctoral fellow in the electrical engineering laboratory of Prof. Vladimir Bulovic at MIT learning about charge transfer in organic semiconductor devices.

In 2011, Liz began her independent career working with undergraduates at Amherst College. Liz moved back to Pennsylvania in 2017 to Lehigh University where she is currently an Assistant Professor. Her research efforts focus on understanding excited-state charge transfer processes for a range of applications, including excited-state proton-coupled electron transfer reactions in model system and photo-induced charge transfer in materials of interest for next generation photovoltaic devices.  

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