Assistant Professor, Physics and Engineering Physics
Sanwu Wang has created some large research projects through his study of very small things.
In September 2007, the Petroleum Research Fund of the American Chemical Society has provided a $40,000 grant for Wang to conduct a two-year study titled, "Large Scale Quantum Mechanical Calculations for the Catalytic Dehydrogenation of Alkanes: Chromium Supported on Transition Aluminas."
Wang said the goal of the research is to determine why activated alumnina can act as a catalytic agent for a reaction that does not take place naturally. Activated aluminas are aluminum oxides with special surface chemistry and reactivity features that make them useful as adsorbents, desiccants, and catalysts.
Wang is working with both graduate and undergraduate students to answer the research question at an atomic level and believes the results will be useful for industry. Activated alumina is used for a wide range of adsorbent and catalyst applications including the adsorption of catalysts in polyethylene production, in hydrogen peroxide production, and as a selective adsorbent for many chemicals including arsenic, fluoride, and sulfur removal from gas streams.
This is not Wang's first large-scale research project. In 2005, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Wang's three-year study, "Novel Super-Hard Nanocomposite Thin-Film Materials: From Atomic Scale Physics to Macroscopic Properties," in which Wang studies the atomic properties of particular nanomaterials.
"A diamond is the hardest substance on Earth, but many of these nanomaterials are very close to the same hardness," Wang said. "We are determining how they achieve this hardness at an atomic level."
Wang said many of these super-hard nanomaterials are used in industry for cutting tools and other purposes. The NSF provided $240,000 for the three-year project. Wang said two graduate students and one undergraduate have been involved in the study.