At the beginning of fall term, the Department of Chemical Engineering welcomed alumna Eranda Nikolla back to the University of Michigan as a professor. Nikolla received her PhD from the University in 2009, co-advised by Suljo Linic and Johannes Schwank.
“I am excited to be back at Michigan as ChE faculty. It will be my chance to give back to the place that shaped me as an independent scientist and engineer,” Nikolla said. “It was the highly collaborative and engaging environment in the department that contributed to my passion for catalysis science, nanoscience and sustainability. It inspired me to pursue an academic career so I could contribute to the education and mentoring of the next generation of engineers and scientists.”
Before joining U-M as a professor, Nikolla served as a faculty member in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at Wayne State University. Since 2011, her research group has focused on the development of heterogeneous catalysts and electrocatalysts for applications to energy and chemical conversion technologies, such as fuel cells, electrolyzers, batteries, and thermochemical processes, as related to biomass and hydrocarbon upgrading.
Their efforts have focused on addressing limitations, including control over activity, selectivity and stability, with the current state-of-the-art heterogeneous catalytic structures for energy and chemical conversion. Methods include engineering mixed metal oxides as platforms for hosting catalytically active metal cations and tuning the 3-dimensional environment of metal catalytic sites through organic and porous oxide overlayers.
“As an integral part of our development of robust heterogeneous catalytic materials, we utilize a paradigm for catalyst development, which involves a combination of controlled synthesis, advanced characterization, kinetic measurements and quantum chemical calculations to identify promising catalytic systems, thereby sidelining the previous “trial-and-error” approaches to catalytic materials selection,” Nikolla said.
She will continue this work at U-M.
Nikolla believes that as engineers and scientists, it is “our responsibility to develop ways to circumvent the limitations with the current energy conversion systems and impact the future of our society through research and development of new avenues to sustainably convert and store energy.”
Toward this vision, her future research platform will expand upon the idea of developing efficient chemical and energy conversion and storage processes through heterogeneous catalyst design to minimize environmental impact and reduce dependence on scarce fossil fuel reserves. A key objective for Nikolla will be guiding the next generation of engineers and scientists toward solutions that will impact the energy landscape and environmental protection through catalyst design.
Driven by her passion for math and chemistry, Nikolla chose chemical engineering as her field of study. Her interest in catalysis derived from her desire to change the energy landscape toward renewable energy sources and efficient energy conversion systems. Raised in southeast Michigan, the epicenter of the automotive industry, Nikolla knew she wanted to be involved in new scientific research to develop energy efficient conversion systems, such as fuel cells, to minimize pollution from internal combustion engines in automobiles.
While in graduate school at U-M, Nikolla worked on development of catalysts for high temperature fuel cells as potential alternatives to thermal combustion systems.
She subsequently completed her postdoctoral work in the Mark E. Davis group at the California Institute of Technology, where her research focused on the development of metalloenzyme-like heterogeneous catalysts for selective generation of platform chemicals from biomass-based feedstocks.