Nicholas BrunelliDr. Nicholas Brunelli, Principal ResearcherWelcome to the Catalytic Material Design Group

Our research focuses on achieving atomic level control of the catalytic active sites in heterogeneous materials by creating novel designs and using advanced synthetic methods. These materials are interrogated through spectroscopic techniques that enable improved design. 


For news about Professor Brunelli and members of the Catalytic Material Design Group, please visit the chemical engineering department's website.

Publication Highlight

Zeolitic Imidazolate Frameworks: Next-Generation Materials for Energy-Efficient Gas Separations

Industrial separation processes comprise approximately 10 % of the global energy demand, driven largely by the utilization of thermal separation methods (e.g., distillation). Significant energy and cost savings can be realized using advanced separation techniques such as membranes and sorbents. One of the major barriers to acceptances of these techniques remains creating materials that are efficient and productive in the presence of aggressive industrial feeds. One promising class of emerging materials is zeolitic imidazolate frameworks (ZIFs), an important thermally and chemically stable subclass of metal organic frameworks (MOFs). The objectives of this paper are (i) to provide a current understanding of the synthetic methods that enable the immense tunability of ZIFs, (ii) to identify areas of success and areas for improvement when ZIFs are used as adsorbents, (iii) to identify areas of success and areas for improvement in ZIF membranes. A review is given of the state-of-the-art in ZIF synthesis procedures and novel ZIF formation pathways as well as their application in energy efficient separations.

Tuning acid–base cooperativity to create next generation silica-supported organocatalysts

Illustration of Acid / Base relationships in Mesoporous SilicaCatalysts incorporating acid and base cooperative interactions can more efficiently catalyze the aldol and nitroaldol reactions than single component catalysts since cooperative interactions enable activation of both reaction partners. Both homogeneous and heterogeneous catalysis studies demonstrate that limiting acid–base interactions is important and can be achieved by using weak acids (including surface silanols of heterogeneous catalysts) or using a rigid backbone between the acid and base.... 

Cooperative Catalysis with Acid–Base Bifunctional Mesoporous Silica: Impact of Grafting and Co-condensation Synthesis Methods on Material Structure and Catalytic Properties

The structural and cooperative catalytic characteristics of acid and base co-functionalized mesoporous silica synthesized through grafting and co-condensation methods are investigated. It is shown that incorporation of the mutually reactive amine and carboxylic acid functional groups is aided by a protecting group in the grafting method....

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Graduate Research Assistant

Students wanting to learn organic and inorganic synthetic techniques for creating catalytic materials. Highly motivated students will gain considerable skills in heterogeneous catalytic material synthesis, characterization, and catalytic testing with considerable opportunities to advance fundamental research in the field of catalysis. If you are interested, please contact Angela Bennett ( for information about how to apply.

Undergraduate Honors Thesis

Highly motivated students wishing to complete a Honors thesis are invited to contact me directly to discuss research opportunities. Please send a copy of your CV.

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