Congratulations to the Principal Investigator Development in Sustainability (PISD) Grant Winners!

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By ACS Green Chemistry Institute

Join us in congratulating the six PISD grant winners, learn about their green chemistry research projects, and explore the exciting interdisciplinary partnerships the program is enabling. The winning faculty members proposed diverse projects that address numerous facets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


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Each of the six PISD grant recipients will benefit from a 6–12 month sabbatical at a hosting institution that they have intentionally selected to acquire new knowledge to advance their green and sustainable chemistry research. The program intends to foster connections between academia and industry, national laboratories, or other institutions that can provide interdisciplinary research opportunities. Awardees will also participate in a teacher training workshop in green chemistry and commit to teaching a green chemistry course or material.   

In 2023, the ACS announced the launch of the PISD grant program as part of the ACS Campaign for a Sustainable Future. This initiative aims to advance chemistry research that will help meet the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. This funding opportunity complements other campaign projects that engage the chemistry community in imagining solutions for a sustainable future, including through education and outreach. 

The selected research projects directly address objectives of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. For example, Goal 4: Quality Education is furthered by the program’s requirement that grantees incorporate green chemistry into their teaching. Meanwhile, several projects pose energy-related solutions, such as hydrogen fuel cells and clean electrochemistry conversion, addressing Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy. While there are many more specific ties to other goals, the overall PISD program – with its heavy emphasis on fostering new collaborations - is well-aligned with Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals. Read on to learn more about each winner and their project!  


Dr. Jakub Kostal, Associate Professor at the George Washington University 

Dr. Kostal will be pursuing his project, “A Systems Approach for the Discovery of Sustainable Pesticides from Biobased Feedstock” at Cambridge University’s Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology. This sabbatical will bridge disciplines, bringing together Jakub’s chemical design and toxicology expertise with a reaction engineering research group as well as direct collaboration with industry partners. 

“Rational design of chemicals with tunable degradation properties, high efficacy, and minimal toxicity is among the grand challenges of green chemistry,” explained Jakub. “While computational modeling has gained traction in predictive toxicology, current methods lack the necessary multifaceted approach and design-vectoring tools needed for systems-based chemical development.” 

With that in mind, the Kostal Research Group has proposed a tiered computational framework to improve on existing tools which will help to gauge chemical behavior and guide the design of better-performing analogs.  

“Green chemistry has been the core of our group's research from the beginning,” said Jakub. “On the educational front, my goal has always been to bridge computational chemistry with green chemistry and toxicology and equip students with the necessary toolkit to design next-generation molecules that will better serve our collective needs.” 


Dr. Ambarish Kulkarni, Assistant Professor at the University of California, Davis 

Dr. Kulkarni will pursue his project, “Revolutionizing the Transportation Industry Using Liquid Organic Hydrogen Carriers” at the Technical University of Denmark, Department of Physics. This sabbatical will enable a long-term collaboration that combines Ambarishs’ core expertise in multi-scale modeling and data science with broader impacts on real-world sustainability challenges in energy and transportation.  

“Sustainability, especially in our everyday actions, has always been important to me. Given my background in using molecular modeling to study fuel cell catalysts, I was really excited to drive the Mirai, which is Toyota's flagship hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (H2-FCEV),” said Ambarish. “Although impressed by the car, I soon realized that the key bottleneck preventing widespread adoption of H2-FCEVs is the fledgling H2 infrastructure in California. I now use this experience to emphasize the importance of focusing on the ‘right’ problem within the broad spectrum of emerging green technologies” 

This experience prompted Ambarish’s group to explore liquid organic hydrogen carriers (LOHCs) as a potential solution to the problem. With support from the grant, Ambarish will work to advance technologies that allow LOHCs to be used directly as fuels. He will use a combination of multiscale molecular modeling and machine learning to explore and develop new catalysts that can convert the chemical energy of aliphatic C-H bonds to electric power. 


Dr. Nicola H. Perry, Associate Professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign 

During her sabbatical at the Imperial College London’s Department of Materials, Dr. Perry will continue her research project, “Visualizing Nanoscale 3D Ion and Defect Chemical Kinetics in Sustainable Energy Materials and Devices: Advancing Tandem Isotope Exchange Tomography and Spectrometry.” By working alongside a world leader in materials for energy technologies, Nicola will have the opportunity to learn new techniques and bring them back to the Perry Group in the U.S. 

“My interest in sustainability led me to research solid-state ionics. This class of materials enables clean electrochemical energy conversion and storage applications, including fuel cells for zero-pollution electricity generation, all-solid-state batteries, and electrolyzers for green H2 production,” she explained. “My research develops design principles, operando characterization tools, and materials discovery strategies to enhance carbon-neutral device efficiency and lifetime. We guide materials discovery through the lenses of defect chemistry and crystal physics.” 

Nicola also aims to equip students with a foundation in materials design and clean energy technologies, particularly through the “Solid State Ionics” course she developed. She also plans to share lessons from her research collaborations on life-cycle analysis (including environmental and health impacts) and designing for recyclability. 


Dr. Yujie Sun, Associate Professor at the University of Cincinnati 

Dr. Sun will collaborate with Princeton University’s Department of Chemistry to advance his project, “Developing Green Electro/Photo-Enzymatic Catalysis for Sustainable Organic Synthesis.” This opportunity will support Yujie in establishing electro-enzymatic reactor techniques with a research group that focuses on how enzymes and metabolic pathways function. 

“Green chemistry and sustainability principles have fundamentally guided my research in electrocatalysis and photocatalysis. Our research projects emphasize the development of efficient and low-cost processes using renewable materials, directly addressing the urgent need for environmentally benign solutions in chemical synthesis and energy conversion,” Yujie said. “Built upon our experience in developing two-photon-absorbing (TPA) photocatalysts, we will explore light-driven biocatalysis using our TPA photocatalysts for enzymatic electron transfers under near-infrared light irradiation, assessing photocatalyst-enzyme pair compatibility and fine-tuning light penetration, irradiation time, and intensity.” 

Yujie’s efforts to include green chemistry in the classroom include his development of a new course, “Green Chemistry and Sustainability,” which is designed for a broad audience including non-chemistry majors. It highlights the critical role of sustainable practices in scientific research and industry, fostering an interdisciplinary understanding of green chemistry principles and their application in addressing global challenges. 


Dr. Christopher Wirth, Associate Professor at Case Western Research University 

Dr. Wirth will pursue his project, “Sustainable Formulation of Packaging Materials: Films, Packaging, and Coatings,” working closely with Dow Chemical Company. The PISD Grant will enable a long-term academia-industry collaboration focused on enhancing the sustainable chemical formulation of products and their manufacturing processes. The project will capitalize on previous experience of Dr. Wirth by leveraging the use of imaging in the evaluation and processing of materials that are candidates for improving sustainability. 

Research questions driven by green chemistry and sustainability have become more prominent in our group in recent years,” said Christopher. “Our fundamental expertise in Colloidal and Interfacial Phenomenon, Complex Fluids Engineering, and Rheology are used to answer these questions, especially as they relate to formulation engineering and processing of chemical products.” 

In the classroom, Christopher will support his students in understanding how sustainability drives formulation choices, such as in switching a synthetic additive for a natural one, using recycled feedstocks in a film, or reducing solvent in a coating—all with an acknowledgement of the process and performance impacts those choices may have.  


Dr. Yang Yang, Assistant Professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara 

Collaborating with Genentech, Inc., Dr. Yang will continue his research project, “Sustainable Photobiocatalytic Synthesis of Non-Canonical Amino Acids Under Continuous Flow Conditions.” By integrating chemistry, biology, and artificial intelligence, the Yang laboratory is developing novel biocatalytic strategies to tackle daunting challenges in synthesis, catalysis, and materials science. The grant-enabled academia-industry collaboration will advance Yang’s exploration of challenges and opportunities regarding transitioning the group’s photobiocatalytic technology into the chemical industry.   

“First, we are addressing long-standing problems in asymmetric catalysis by taking advantage of the intimate enzyme-substrate interaction that can be easily tuned via directed evolution,” explained Yang. “Second, by synergistically merging small-molecule catalysis and biocatalysis, we are advancing novel enzymatic processes that are both new-to-biology and new-to-chemistry. Third, we are developing machine learning and automation methods to accelerate the development of customized biocatalysts with tailored applications.” 

In both his undergraduate and graduate-level organic chemistry courses, Yang plans to incorporate  the practices of green chemistry to better prepare the next generation of students to appreciate and embrace its power. 


Congratulations once again to the winners! Are you an early or mid-career investigator preparing for a sabbatical or looking for interdisciplinary collaboration opportunities? The next PISD Grant application period will open on July 15, 2024 and closes on September 20, 2024. Learn how to apply