The Interface Science Department welcomes two Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellows

September 01, 2023

The Fritz Haber Institute (FHI) of the Max Planck Society congratulates Dr. Jingyi Yang and Dr. Wei Nie, who have just been awarded a Postdoctoral Researcher Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. They will pursue their two-years projects at the Department of Interface Science (ISC) in the groups of Dr. Shamil Shaikhutdinov and Dr. Christopher Kley.

Dr. Jingyi Yang successfully earned her PhD in industrial catalysis from the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, in 2021. Her doctoral research was dedicated to the synthesis of highly loaded and thermally stable single-atom catalysts (SACs), a field that has garnered significant attention in heterogeneous catalysis. Initially, this attention was driven by the aim to maximize the efficiency of noble metal utilization while minimizing catalyst costs.

In contrast to "conventional" catalysts composed of metal clusters and nanoparticles, the reaction mechanisms involving single atoms are expected to be distinct. However, the intricate preparation processes and the limited thermal and environmental stability of SACs pose challenges for their practical applications. Recent breakthroughs in the Interface Science Department, led by Prof. Dr. Beatriz Roldán Cuenya, have revealed that pre-treatment of SACs with low-pressure, "cold" plasmas can stabilize single atoms under reaction conditions. Dr. Jingyi Yang's future research endeavors will delve into the impact of plasma on catalytic surfaces and the functioning of plasma-modified catalysts, particularly in hydrogenation reactions.

As a member of the "Structure and Reactivity" group, under the leadership of Dr. Shamil Shaikhutdinov, Dr. Yang will not only explore powder catalysts but also prepare and examine planar model catalysts using state-of-the-art techniques available within the department. This holistic approach, combining real-world and model catalysts, promises to shed light on the operational mechanisms of SACs.

Expressing her enthusiasm, Dr. Jingyi Yang remarked, "I eagerly anticipate embarking on my new research project at FHI, where I can expand my scientific expertise in the realm of surface science. The interdisciplinary research environment here promises to provide advanced fundamental insights into the field of single-atom catalysis. The valuable experience gained at this prestigious institute will undoubtedly enhance my future career in academia."

Dr. Wei Nie earned his PhD from the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, in 2022. During his doctoral studies, he delved into the intricacies of charge transfer processes at electrode/electrolyte interfaces, as well as the localized surface reactions of photo-electrocatalysts. He harnessed an array of cutting-edge techniques including electrochemical atomic force microscopy-scanning electrochemical microscopy, surface photovoltage microscopy, and Kelvin probe force microscopy.

Dr. Nie is set to join the Helmholtz Young Investigator Group “Nanoscale Operando CO2 Photo-Electrocatalysis” led by Dr. Christopher Kley. In this new role, he will tackle the challenge of unveiling the dynamic behavior of surface structures and the activity of electrocatalysts for the oxygen evolution reaction (OER) in situ. He chose the Fritz Haber Institute (FHI) and the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) for his postdoctoral tenure due to their exceptional research infrastructure and world-renowned expertise in surface science and electrocatalysis.

Speaking about his decision, Dr. Nie stated, "The state-of-the-art surface/bulk-sensitive characterization facilities within the host group hold immense potential for unveiling, at the nanoscale under real operating conditions, the catalyst's surface structure, reconstruction, and local activities, influenced by a myriad of physico-chemical mechanisms. Through this cutting-edge research environment, I am thrilled to enhance my electrochemistry-based research skills with advanced materials characterization techniques."

The Fritz Haber Institute, and in particular, the Department of Interface Science, is honoured to welcome them as valuable additions to its team and eagerly anticipates the next two years of collaboration.

Every year, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation enables more than 2,000 researchers from all over the world to spend time conducting research in Germany. So far more than 30,000 fellowships have been awarded across all disciplines to researchers from more than 140 countries worldwide – including 59 Nobel Laureates. The Fritz Haber Institute hosted a total of 68 researchers in the years from 2016 to 2022. This means that the FHI "hosts" the most Humboldt researchers in Berlin behind the major universities (FU, HU, TU).

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