Sen Zhang

Associate Professor of Chemistry and Commonwealth of Virginia Eminent Researcher
Room 229, Chemistry Building


B.S. University of Science and Technology of China, 2008

Ph.D. Brown University, 2013

NatureNet Postoctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania, 2013-2016

The Zhang group focuses on the development of inorganic nanoscale and sub-nanoscale materials with atomically precise surfaces, interfaces and ordered architectures that enables notable physicochemical properties and emerging applications. Combining the efforts in materials synthesis, advanced characterization, and functional device engineering and simulation, we aim to derive new design principle and new synthetic methodology for critical materials in catalysis, magnetism, plasmonics and biosensing.

Synthetic Methodology for Atomically Precise Materials: Central to functionalizing materials is our ability to synthetically control materials physical dimensions, compositions, and structures with atomic precision. We concentrate our research on the fundamental aspects of inorganic solid nucleation and formation mechanisms. Using colloidal chemistry and operando X-ray scattering and spectroscopic probes, we seek to elucidate the reaction kinetics governing the transformation from atomic monomer to nanocrystals with atomically well-defined structures and surfaces. In particular, we are interested in the nonclassical nucleation and growth phenomena mediated by magic-sized clusters and mesocrystals, and the design of new functional ligands that allow the surface atomic structure engineering of nanocrystals and the programmable formation of ordered nanocrystal superlattices.

Catalysis for Clean Energy and Environmental Sustainability: Taking advantage of synthetic control over atomic surfaces and sites of catalytic materials, our research contributes to the fundamental understanding of structure-property relationship of nano/single-site catalysts for critical energy conversion and chemical transformation processes. Ongoing projects include the development of electrocatalysts for hydrogen economy (water electrolyzer and low-temperature fuel cells) and sustainable carbon management (CO2 reduction and biomass-derived molecule conversion) as well as the thermal catalysts for CO2 hydrogenation and light alkane dehydrogenation. A suite of operando spectroscopic tools (X-ray absorption spectroscopy and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy), in combination with synchrotron radiation X-ray diffraction and environmental electron microscopy, are employed in our research to reveal the atomic structure of catalysts and their evolution under reaction conditions. Our in-house surface enhanced infrared absorption spectroscopy (SEIRAS) and differential electrochemical mass spectrometry (DEMS) allow us to elucidate the reaction pathways and kinetics. This mechanistic investigation over atomically precise material can be seamlessly integrated with theoretical computation for an ultimate understanding of catalyst design and optimization.

Functional Magnetic and Plasmonic Materials: Another area of focus for the Zhang group is the dimension-dependent magnetic and plasmonic properties of nanomaterials. We are interested in the modulation of magnetic anisotropy using 1-D and 2-D metal oxide materials and their ordered assemblies. In addition, we are collaborating with bioanalytic chemists and engineers to design new strategies to modify biological objects (cells, bacteria, viruses, etc.) with functionalized plasmonic and magnetic nanocrystals to enable the efficient sensing in microfluidic devices.

Recent publications

Chang Liu, Jin Qian, Yifan Ye, Hua Zhou, Cheng-Jun Sun, Colton Sheehan, Zhiyong Zhang, Gang Wan, Yi-Sheng Liu, Jinghua Guo, Shuang Li, Hyeyoung Shin, Sooyeon Hwang, T. Brent Gunnoe, William A. Goddard III*, Sen Zhang*, “Oxygen Evolution Reaction over Catalytic Single-Site Co in a Well-Defined Brookite TiO2 Nanorod Surface”, Nature Catalysis 2021, 4, 36-45.

Perrin Godbold, Grayson Johnson, Akachukwu D. Obi, Rebecca Brown, Sooyeon Hwang, Robert J. Gilliard Jr.*, Sen Zhang*, “Surfactant Removal for Colloidal Nanocrystal Catalysts Mediated by N-Heterocyclic Carbenes​” J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2021, 143, 2644–2648.

Yulu Zhang, Na Li, Zhiyong Zhang, Shuang Li, Meiyang Cui, Lu Ma, Hua Zhou, Dong Su, and Sen Zhang* "Programmable Synthesis of Multimetallic Phosphide Nanorods Mediated by Core/Shell Structure Formation and Conversion"  J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2020, 142, 8490-8497. 

Cheng Hao Wu, Chang Liu, Dong Su, Huolin L. Xin, Hai-Tao Fang, Baran Eren, Sen Zhang*, Christopher B. Murray*, Miquel B. Salmeron*, "Bimetallic Synergy in Cobalt-Palladium Nanocatalysts for CO oxidation", Nature Catalysis, 2019, 2, 78-85.

Zhiyong Zhang, Qiyuan Wu, Grayson Johnson, Yifan Ye, Xing Li, Na Li, Meiyang Cui, Jennifer D. Lee, Chang Liu, Shen Zhao, Shuang Li, Alexander Orlov, Christopher B. Murray, Xu Zhang, T. Brent Gunnoe, Dong Su*, and Sen Zhang*. "Generalized Synthetic Strategy for Transition Metal Doped Brookite-Phase TiO2 Nanorods" J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2019, 141, 16548-16552.

Li An, Zhiyong Zhang, Jianrui Feng, Fan Lv, Yuxuan Li, Rui Wang, Min Lu, Ram B. Gupta, Pinxian Xi*, Sen Zhang*, "Heterostructure-Promoted Oxygen Electrocatalysis Enables Rechargeable Zinc-Air Battery with Neutral Aqueous Electrolyte", J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2018, 140,17624-17631.

Chang Liu, Zhong Ma, Meiyang Cui, Zhiyong Zhang, Xu Zhang, Dong Su, Christopher B. Murray, Jia X. Wang, Sen Zhang*, "Favorable Core/Shell Interface within Co2P/Pt Nanorods for Oxygen Reduction Electrocatalysis", Nano Lett., 2018, 18, 7870-7875.

Awards and Honors

2022 NSF CAREER Award, US National Science Foundation

2021 Research Excellence Award, University of Virginia

2021 CAPA Distinguished Junior Faculty Award, Chinese-American Chemistry & Chemical Biology Professors Association (CAPA)

2021 Scialog Collaborative Innovation Award for Negative Emissions Science, Research Corporation for Science Advancement and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation 

2020 Rising Star 2020, Frontiers in Chemistry, Frontiers

2020 Emerging Investigator, Nanoscale, The Royal Society of Chemistry

2019 Emerging Investigator, Journal of Materials Chemistry A, The Royal Society of Chemistry

2019 Sustainability Course Development Fellowship, University of Virginia

2014  William R. Potter Prize for Doctoral Thesis of Outstanding Merit, Brown University

2013-2016  NatureNet Postdoctoral Fellowship, The Nature Conservancy