Michelle Personick

Associate Professor of Chemistry


B.A. Middlebury College, 2009

Ph.D. Northwestern University, 2013

Postdoctoral Associate, Harvard University, 2013-2015

The Personick Group is advancing the state of the art in the synthesis of precise nanomaterials and is using these precision materials to define catalytic structure-function relationships at an elevated level of mechanistic detail. Through this combination of materials synthesis innovations and fundamental studies of catalytic reactivity, we aim to develop principles for the predictive design of catalyst materials that will enable key advances in technology for sustainable energy generation and chemical synthesis. Our research takes place at the interface between inorganic chemistry, materials science, and chemical engineering.

Innovation in the use of energy resources is a pressing contemporary challenge. Addressing this need requires the more efficient use of current petroleum-based energy resources as precursors and fuels, along with increased utilization of alternative energy resources, including biomass and natural gas, and the valorization of readily available but chemically stable potential feedstocks, such as carbon dioxide. Enhancing the viability of alternative energy generation technologies, such as fuel cells, is also required to transform the overall energy landscape. A major prerequisite in meeting these critical challenges in energy and sustainability is a need for the design and synthesis of new highly active and selective catalytic materials.

We are developing materials-generalizable chemical tools for controlling the structure, composition, and surface ligand environment of metal nanoparticles at the atomic scale. For example, we have designed a series of approaches for achieving fine control over the location and relative concentration of individual metals in bimetallic materials, which is essential for tuning catalyst performance. Our group has also pioneered an innovative methodology for using fundamental electrochemical measurements in combination with electrochemically-driven nanoparticle growth in a well-controlled chemical environment to understand redox transformations and the evolution of materials under the complex conditions of colloidal nanoparticle synthesis. Importantly, the technique is one of the only available tools for the in situ collection of data regarding the chemical processes that drive metal nanoparticle formation. In addition to answering key questions about nanoparticle growth, we are using this electrochemical approach to synthesize nanostructured electrodes from earth-abundant metals for energy-relevant electrocatalytic processes such as the conversion of carbon dioxide to fuels.

These nanomaterials provide a platform for structure-activity studies of catalytic reactions at the intersection of idealized model surfaces and working catalysts, thereby facilitating catalyst design from fundamental principles. We study these same highly precise “nanoscale model surfaces” under realistic catalytic conditions and in well-controlled chemical environments, tracking structure-function relationships resulting from clearly defined modifications of surface atomic arrangement, elemental composition, and the presence of molecular adsorbates. We use a variety of spectroscopic and microscopic techniques—including infrared spectroscopy, electron microscopy, x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, and x-ray absorption spectroscopy—to understand the structure and dynamics of catalytic active sites. With this platform, we can test and validate predictions from experimental and computational surface science under working catalytic conditions, creating a feedback loop that facilitates directed catalyst design for a variety of applications. One current focus is selective oxidation and hydrogenation reactions relevant to the production of sustainable high-energy-density fuels and bio-based chemicals from biomass feedstocks.

We are using visible light to achieve reaction selectivity that is not possible with purely thermal reaction chemistry in both materials synthesis and catalytic transformations. Noble metal nanoparticles, particularly those of silver and gold, have unique properties that arise upon illumination with visible light. Energy from this “plasmonic” excitation can be used to control reactivity at the surfaces of these materials. We are employing this non-thermal, light-driven chemistry to selectively accelerate kinetically slow metal ion reduction processes and overcome challenges in the synthesis of bimetallic nanoparticles. We are also exploring plasmon-mediated catalytic reactions at crystalline defects and bimetallic interfaces—including core-shell, core-satellite, and dilute bimetallic surface architectures. Reactions relevant to air quality remediation, such as the oxidation of volatile organic compounds, are one target of this work. In addition, we are using plasmonic excitation as a tool for actively modulating the binding strength of weakly-adsorbed reaction intermediates on nanoscale metal surfaces to tailor selectivity in challenging molecular transformations relevant to sustainable chemical production.

Selected Recent Publications

Argento, G. M.; Judd, D. R.; Etemad, L. L.; Bechard, M. M.; Personick, M. L.  “Plasmon-Mediated Reconfiguration of Twin Defect Structures in Silver Nanoparticles.” J. Phys. Chem. C. 2023127, 3890-3897.

McDarby, S. P.; Personick, M. L. “Potential-Controlled (R)Evolution: Electrochemical Synthesis of Nanoparticles with Well-Defined Shapes.” ChemNanoMat 2022, 8, e202100472. 

McDarby, S. P.; Wang, C. J.; King, M. E.; Personick, M. L. “An Integrated Electrochemistry Approach to the Design and Synthesis of Polyhedral Noble Metal Nanoparticles.” J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2020, 142, 21322-21335.

Habib, A.; King, M. E.; Etemad, L. L.; Distler, M. E.; Morrissey, K.; Personick, M. L. “Plasmon-Mediated Synthesis of Hybrid Silver-Platinum Nanostructures.” J. Phys. Chem. C 2020, 124, 6853-6860.Authors contributed equally.

King, M. E.; Kent, I. A.; Personick, M. L. “Halide-Assisted Metal Ion Reduction: Emergent Effects of Dilute Chloride, Bromide, and Iodide in Nanoparticle Synthesis.” Nanoscale 2019, 11, 15612-15621.

Robertson, D. D.; Personick, M. L. “Growing Nanoscale Model Surfaces to Enable Correlation of Catalytic Behavior Across Dissimilar Reaction Environments.” Chem. Mater. 2019, 31, 1121-1141.

King, M. E.; Personick, M. L. “Iodide-Induced Differential Control of Metal Ion Reduction Rates: Synthesis of Terraced Palladium-Copper Nanoparticles with Dilute Bimetallic Surfaces.” J. Mater. Chem. A 2018, 6, 22179-22188.

Stone, A. L.; King, M. E.; McDarby, S. P.; Robertson, D. D.; Personick, M. L. “Synthetic Routes to Shaped AuPt Core-Shell Particles with Smooth Surfaces Based on Design Rules for Au Nanoparticle Growth.” Part. Part. Syst. Charact. 2018, 35, 1700401.

Robertson, D. D.; King, M. E.; Personick, M. L. “Concave Cubes as Experimental Models of Catalytic Active Sites for the Oxygen-Assisted Coupling of Alcohols by Dilute (Ag)Au Alloys.” Top. Catal. 2018, 61, 348-356.

King, M. E.; Personick, M. L. “Defects by Design: Synthesis of Palladium Nanoparticles with Extended Twin Defects and Corrugated Surfaces.” Nanoscale 2017, 9, 17914-17921.

King, M. E.; Personick, M. L. “Bimetallic Nanoparticles with Exotic Facet Structures via Iodide-Assisted Reduction of Palladium.” Part. Part. Syst. Charact. 2017, 34, 1600422.

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Awards and Honors

2018 Young Investigator Program Award, Army Research Office

2018 Emerging Investigator, Journal of Materials Chemistry A, The Royal Society of Chemistry

2016 Victor K. LaMer Award, ACS Division of Colloid and Surface Chemistry