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NSF Awards Pitt Researcher $223,093 to Study the Interaction Between Ionic Liquids and Water

PITTSBURGH (June 28, 2019) — Ionic liquids (ILs) are unique because they are not solid nor liquid—they are both. ILs’ distinctive properties make them useful in many applications, from electrolytes for energy storage devices to lubricants used in manufacturing. However, even a small amount of water can have a huge impact on the structure of ILs at solid-IL interfaces, where the IL meets a solid surface, limiting how they can be used. 

Investigators from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, in collaboration with Virginia Tech, have received a National Science Foundation award of $223,093 to examine how water affects the molecular structure of IL at IL-solid interfaces.  

“Researchers have made significant progress toward understanding solid-IL interfaces,” says Lei Li, PhD, principal investigator and associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt. “Now, an increasing number of studies suggest that water, even in very small amounts, greatly affects the structure of solid-IL interfaces. Because water adsorption is inevitable with many applications, our research aims to better understand such effects and to potentially leverage them to achieve better performance.”

Dr. Li’s group will examine how water affects the electrification of solid surfaces and the molecular structure of ILs at IL-solid interfaces. This investigation will open up a new dimension for the next generation of IL design.

“If we are able to understand the fundamental mechanics behind water’s interaction with ILs, it could have a huge impact in applications,” says Dr. Li. “We could begin tailoring individual ions to fit our needs.”

Dr. Li’s group will be working with Rui Qiao, PhD, and his group at Virginia Tech on this research through 2022.

Author: Maggie Pavlick

Contact: Maggie Pavlick