Functional Inorganic Materials @ UMD

Solid-state materials can transform how we communicate, utilize energy, and store information. Without the material, there is no technology. Before being integrated into exciting applications, however, every advanced material must first be developed by fundamental work. At the University of Maryland, our group uses a multidisciplinary approach for the preparation and fundamental study of functional inorganic materials. We design and synthesize novel quantum materials, where interactions at the atomic scale have profound consequences for their macroscopic properties. Such materials include superconductors and magnetic materials. We also synthesize transition metal oxides for their chemical reactivity. With advanced neutron and X-ray scattering measurements, we investigate what is so unique about their crystal structures that give rise to their advanced properties. Below are specific programs and projects in our group.


See the Youtube video showcasing our work and the new Chemistry Building, due to be completed in 2023! Our very own Matt Leonard gave the student speech! Here he is pictured with President Pines, Provost Rice, Dean Varshney, and other dignitaries. Click here for video.


Our new book on the synthesis of quantum materials is now out! Check out "Fundamentals of Quantum Materials: A Practical Guide to Synthesis and Exploration" by Johnpierre Paglione, Nick P. Butch, and Efrain E. Rodriguez. You can now get it on Amazon too.


Research projects:

Click on the following topics to learn more.

Solvo/hydrothermal synthesis of quantum materials

Neutron scattering and ferroic materials

Mesoporous metal oxides for adsorption and decomposition of toxins

In situ studies of oxygen strorage materials

Research area 1: Hydrothermal and solvothermal synthesis of non-centrosymmetric Quantum Materials

This work is supported by the National Science Foundation, Division of Materials Research, Solid State and Materials Chemistry (award number DMR-2113682).


Team members: Huafei Zheng, Lahari Balisetty, Mario Lopez

What happens when you remove certain symmetries in the crystal structure of quantum materials? In particular, when one removes inversion symmetry. Our group synthesizes transition metal chalcogenides with layered-type structures in order to 'twist' or 'bend' them to make them non-centrosymmetric and induce new physical phenomena. Such a strategy could, for example, lead to novel pairing mechanisms in superconductors. To do this bending or twisting, we insert metal amine species between the chalcogenide layers, taking advantage of the van der Waals gap and hydrogen bonding of the type N--H-Q where Q= chalcogenide anion such as S2- or Se2-. The metal amine species is a chiral molecule itself such as M(en)3 where M = coordinating metal and en=ethylenediamine. With advanced scattering measurements that include synchrotron X-rays and neutrons, we study the key structure-property relationships of our materials. The layered host is typically a tetrahedral transition metal chalcogenide (TTMC) where MQ4 tetrahedra edge-share to make 2D layers. Below, a schematic our non-centrosymmetric quantum materials, which include chalcogenides of iron, cobalt, manganese and nickel.


Research area 2: Uncovering Ferrotoroidic Ordering through Targeted Materials Synthesis and Polarized Neutron Diffraction

This work is supported by the Department of Energy, Basic Energy Sciences, Neutron Scattering (award number DE-SC0016434).


Team members: Stephanie Gnewuch, Timothy Diethrich, and Ryan Stadel

Ferroics such as ferromagnets, ferroelectrics, and ferroelastics are crystalline materials whose characteristic properties are dictated by and understood through their symmetry. A defining characteristic of these materials are that the magnetic moments, electric dipoles, etc. will spontaneously align at a specific transition temperature. This ordering is used to both understand the orientation of their spontaneous physical properties, and properties under applied fields. Through the lens of solid-state chemistry, we are searching for a new class of ferroic materials called ferrotoroidics. We define a toroidal moment as the local moment that arises from a local vortex of magnetic moments. When considering materials to target for synthesis, we consider both the point group symmetry which would permit novel ordering, and structural components which enable this ordering. We began by studying the series of lithium transition metal orthophosphates LiMPO4 (M = Mn, Fe, Co, Ni), whose magnetic point group symmetry is known to permit ferrotoroidic order in the iron, cobalt, and nickel analogs. We have begun also investigating other systems also containing magnetic transition metal cations and tetrahedral anions, such as thiophosphates, silicates, and pyroxenes. The figure below depicts two candidate structures for ferrotoroidics. To study the subtle features of the magnetic ordering in our materials, we are currently building the polarized neutron apparatus and infrastructure to perform spherical neutron polarimetry on these and other materials.


Research area 3: High capacity mesoporous metal oxides for toxic gas adsorption and degradation

Team members: Tianyu Li and Matthew Leonard

This work is supported by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (award number HDTRA 1-19-1-0001).


Chemical warfare agents (CWA) prevalently threaten military and civilian populations. To ensure their protection, new materials need to be developed that can adsorb and degrade these CWAs. Current filters use an activated carbon to adsorb the CWA and ASZM-TEDA to degrade them. To increase reactivity, we synthesize mesoporous metal oxides (MMO) using a variety of techniques including hard and soft templating to increase the surface area and overall reactivity. We study how CWAs and probe molecules such as degrade on the surfaces in the pores of the MMOs through various spectroscopic techniques. We start with simple binary oxides such as TiO2 and CeO and then characterize how aliovalent doping promotes or degrades reactivity towards CWAs or DMMP. We are look at complex oxides such as those with the perovskite structure; examples include ATiO3 (A = Ca, Sr, Ba) and LaBO3 (B = Mn, Fe, Co, Ni). We explore how different porous structures (e.g. KIT-6, SBA-15, CMK-3, FDU-15 ect.) affect structure effect reactivity. This project is highly collaborative, working with other research groups for computational (e.g. DFT) studies of surface reactivity and specroscopic studies (e.g. infrared, mass spectrometry) to understand thermodynamics and kinetics. Prof. Maija Kukla (UMD) peforms DFT calculations and Prof. Michael Zachariah (UC Riverside) conducts the kinetic and thermodynamic studies. Finally, the Chemical Biological Center (CBC, DEVCOM) tests our materials with live agents.


Research area 4: Metal oxides as oxygen storage materials

Team members: Tianyu Li and Lahari Balisetty

Oxygen storage materials are substoichiometric metal oxides which can be used for a variety of applications including fuel cells, energy conversion, combustion, chemical looping cycles, and catalysis. We explore through the use of in-situ synchrotron X-ray and neutron scattering how metal oxides evolve in structure and chemical composition as the uptake and release oxygen. Some of the systems we explore include 'traditional' perovskites such as La1-xSrxBO3 where B = Mn, Fe, Co, and Ni. Less explored by the community are the layered oxides with stoichiometry AB2O4 where A = Ln3+ and B= Mn, Fe, and Co. In the case of perovskites, usually one is creating and oxide vacancies and the oxygen storage capacity is given by δ in ABO3-δ. In the case of the layered oxides, oxide anions are incorporated into crystalline lattice. Therefore, the oxygen storage capacity is given by δ in AB2O4-δ.