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The winner of the 2023 Unilever Award is:

Dr. Xiao Su, Assistant Professor
Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Chemistry (Affiliate)
Civil and Environmental Engineering (Affiliate)
Beckman Institute for Advanced Science & Technology at Illinois (Affiliate)

Redox reactions in action: electro-responsive interfaces for sustainable separations

Innovations for separation technologies are critical for securing our supply-chain, enabling sustainable manufacturing, and ensuring clean air and water at a global scale. Here, we develop redox-responsive interfaces for electrochemical separations through a multiscale approach. First, we study the synthetic tuning of redox-active moieties for the reversible binding of critical element ions. We use in-situ interfacial measurements to elucidate the contributions of charge-transfer, electrostatics, and solvation to ion selectivity, under electrochemical control. Second, we show how polymer structure can be programmed to achieve precise control over the binding and release of challenging organic species. We impart chirality onto our redox interfaces, and highlight the remarkable enhancement of enantioselective interactions through supramolecular effects at a polymer level. Next, we carry out the combinatorial design and synthesis of copolymer interfaces for binding perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and highlight the key role of fluorophilic interactions for promoting short-chain PFAS affinity. Finally, we showcase the emerging strategies for the design of bifunctional redox interfaces – we couple electrochemical reactions with separations at a single electrode, for the capture and conversion of nitrate to ammonium. Overall, our work establishes interfacial design principles for electrochemical separations, and demonstrate their potential for sustainability across major areas of resource recovery, chemical manufacturing, and environmental remediation.

Xiao Su is an Assistant Professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He obtained his Bachelor in Applied Sciences in Chemical Engineering from the University of Waterloo in 2011. He completed his PhD in Chemical Engineering from MIT in 2017, working under the supervision of Professor T. Alan Hatton from Chemical Engineering and Professor Timothy F. Jamison from Chemistry. He joined the faculty of UIUC in January 2019, and his research program pursues the molecular design of functional materials for advanced separations and process intensification. Focus areas of his group include the development of stimuli-responsive interfaces and electrochemically- driven separation technologies for sustainable chemical and biochemical manufacturing, as well as new pathways for waste valorization and materials recycling. Xiao is a recipient of the NSF CAREER Award (2019), the ACS Victor K. LaMer Award in Colloids and Surface Science (2020), the International Society of Electrochemistry (ISE) Green Electrochemistry Prize (2021), and the Center for Advanced Study (CAS) Fellowship in 2022.

The Division of Colloid and Surface Chemistry annually selects a recipient of the Unilever Award for Outstanding Young Investigator in Colloid & Surfactant Science. The 2023 Award will be presented at the Symposium during a special awards session on Tuesday afternoon.

Regarding the Award:

Purpose: To recognize and encourage fundamental work in colloid or surfactant science carried out in North America by researchers in the early stages of their careers.

Nature: The award consists of $3,000 and a plaque. In addition, up to $2000 is provided towards travel expenses to the meeting at which the award will be presented. The winner is expected to deliver a lecture.

Establishment and Support: The award was established in 2003 by the Unilever Corporation.

Rules of Eligibility: Nominees who are within seven (7) years of receiving their Ph.D. are eligible for the Award. Special consideration is given to the originality and creativity of the work and to its potential impact. The research must have been carried out in North America.

Criteria: The judges will consider originality, quality, and significance of the work and its potential impact on current and future research as well as on industrial and commercial applications.

Additional information about the Unilever Award and details about the nomination process are available here.

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