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Toward a Greener Future: USU Chemists Pursue Sustainable Energy

Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014

USU undergrad researcher Lia Bogoev with faculty mentor Yujie Sun

Undergrad researcher Lia Bogoev, left, with faculty mentor Yujie Sun, is studying solid-state catalysts to produce sustainable energy. Bogoev presents her research at the State Capitol Jan. 30.

faculty mentor Yujie Sun with undergrad researcher Nick Labrum

Nick Labrum, right, an undergrad researcher in the lab of Yujie Sun, left, will be among about 30 USU students presenting to legislators at Utah's Undergraduate Research Day on Capitol Hill Jan. 30.

One glance across Utah’s northern valleys during the winter months is enough evidence that we’d all benefit from cleaner fuels to power our vehicles, homes, schools and businesses. At the molecular level, Utah State University chemists are exploring ways to unlock low-emissions, sustainable energy from our galaxy’s most powerful source: the Sun.

In the lab of faculty mentor Yujie Sun in USU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, undergraduates Lia Bogoev and Nick Labrum are contributing to research aimed at developing efficient solar energy conversion, storage and use. Both students are recipients of USU’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Opportunities “URCO” grants and they’re among a group of about 30 USU students selected to present to Utah legislators Jan. 30, during the state’s 2014 Undergraduate Research Day on Capitol Hill in Salt Lake City.

“My research is centered on creating easily produced solid-state catalysts for hydrogen production using earth-abundant elements,” says Bogoev, who is a recipient of the Energy Solutions Women in STEM Scholarship. “This could have a significant impact on the energy industry because it could enable the production of hydrogen on-site.”

Labrum’s research is focused on understanding the roles of calcium and first-row transition metals in water oxidation.

“We’re developing a model based on photosynthesis,” says Labrum, who plans to pursue graduate study in inorganic chemistry. “Not many scientists have examined the role of calcium in this biological process, so this is quite new.”

Sun says efforts by these researchers are key steps in renewable energy catalysis, which could pave the way for carbon-neutral, sustainable energy to meet the growing demands of global consumption.

His research projects are multi-disciplinary, which enable students to learn about basic science, while developing applied skills in materials science, photochemistry, electrochemistry and, in Bogoev’s case, computer science.

“I’ve learned there’s a whole data management side to research and I hope to develop programming tools scientists can use to make research easier,” says Bogoev, who plans to earn a graduate degree in computer science. “Some of the current research software is neither intuitive nor user friendly.”

Sun says he’d welcome Bogoev’s foray into computer science.

“It would be very beneficial to have a computer scientist with a chemistry background developing tools for chemists,” he says.

Related links:

Contact: Yujie Sun, 435-797-7608,

Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517,

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