Building bridges and strengthening bonds between CALTECH and European researchers

Madeline Hicks, a researcher in the Peters Group at CALTECH and member of the SOREC2 team, recently completed a visit to Europe. Her visit spanned nearly ten days at the end of May. Hicks, whose research group focuses on new concepts for catalysis, electrocatalysis, and photocatalysis, engaged in several key activities and meetings with colleagues at the University of Ferrara (UNIFE), Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB), and ICFO. Her visit also included a face-to-face meeting with the project’s coordinator, Professor Jordi Martorell.

From May 20th to 24th, Hicks focused predominantly on laboratory work at UNIFE, working on work package 3 (WP3) tasks under the supervision of Prof. Serena Berardi and Carles Ros, a postdoctoral researcher at ICFO, who joined Hicks and the UNIFE team. The visit commenced with a team meeting to set the objectives, followed by intensive lab sessions in which CO2 reduction (CO2R) experiments were performed to analyze the cathodes brought by Hicks in UNIFE’s lab setup. The researchers were able to produce ethanol from CO2 electrolysis using low-purity copper within the SOREC2 preliminary electrochemical cell. The visit at UNIFE concluded with a wrap-up meeting to discuss future challenges. During these days in Ferrara, Hicks witnessed the lab setups firsthand and provided real-time feedback.

 “We could closely compare our experimental set-up for CO2R to that available at Caltech, and to identify similarities and differences, which resulted to be key in reaching the target performances,” said Serena Berardi the UNIFE researcher who hosted Hicks. “We had the opportunity to discuss the further steps we will take for the development of the proof-of-concept PEC cell, together also with Carles Ros, from ICFO, who joined us for a couple of days.”, added Berardi.

A seminar at the UAB

On the 27th of May, Hicks met with several UAB team members, including Carolina Gimbert, SOREC2 WP3 leader, and senior members of the CatSyNanoMat research group, Adelina Vallribera, Roser Pleixats, and Albert Granados. She also met with senior members of the SelOxCat research group, Xavier Sala, Laia Francàs, and Jordi García Anton. The visit to UAB included a lab tour through the UAB research facilities of both groups and a seminar offered by Hicks and chaired by Carolina Gimbert.

According to Gimbert, Hicks’ visit was “an excellent opportunity to exchange expertise in the field of carbon dioxide electroreduction in-house, that is going to be essential to progress in SOREC2 WP3 chemistry in the upcoming months. At UAB, Hicks interacted not only with senior members of the involved research groups, but also with PhD students and postdoctoral researchers, allowing them to discuss scientific challenges face to face and strengthen their scientific network”

Visiting the ICFO facilities

The following day, Hicks visited ICFO, where she met with several members of the SOREC2 team. ICFO researcher Carles Ros took Madeline on a visit through the laboratories of the Organic Nanostructured Photovoltaics group, led by Prof. Jordi Martorell. A lunch with Prof. Martorell and other ICFO researchers was scheduled.

Madeline’s visit allowed us to fine tune the needs of their CO2R technology to our photovoltaic-photoelectrochemical setup, providing us with valuable insights to implement a complete off-grid CO2 to Ethylene conversion prototype powered only with sunlight,” said Carles Ros, who hosted Hicks at ICFO.

“Meeting in person always strengthens collaboration because you form a personal connection with the other researchers. Socializing and exchanging scientific ideas each day strengthened the collaboration,” said Hicks.

According to Hicks, the visit provided an enhanced understanding and improved troubleshooting capabilities. “My visit gave us a better product baseline to work with than previously achieved, as well as informed me of the intimate details of the electrochemistry setup. In this way, I can give better feedback for troubleshooting going forward,” she concluded.