Caltech-JCAP scientist talks about artificial photosynthesis

Jack Hess L. Baricuatro, Ph.D., a staff scientist at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis (JCAP) at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), gave a seminar today, July 16, 2019, at the Science and Mathematics Education Department Audio-Visual Room in Talamban Campus.

Dr. Baricuatro’s talk, entitled “Surface science studies of artificial photosynthesis in the dark: Heterogeneous catalysis of carbon dioxide-to-fuel conversion,” was sponsored by the Chemistry Students’ Association (ChemSA) and the USC Department of Chemistry.

Starting with an overview of the purpose of JCAP, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Dr. Baricuatro described current efforts on artificial photosynthesis, taking inspiration from natural processes to convert carbon dioxide and water with the aid of solar energy into fuels.

He narrowed his talk to efforts exploring the “dark” reaction, i.e., carbon dioxide reduction, as opposed to the light-dependent reactions in photosynthesis that produce oxygen gas. Contrasting the use of noble metal catalysts to produce hydrogen gas, Baricuatro highlighted their discovery of copper-based catalysts that could reduce carbon dioxide into ethanol, albeit at low efficiency. He also described advances that his group at JCAP developed, including operando scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) in aqueous medium, observing the structural changes in the copper catalysts while undergoing surface electrochemical reactions.

Speaking in front of over 70 people, including Senior High School administrators and teachers from USC and Minglanilla Science High School, graduate students, faculty and staff, and even members of his family, Dr. Baricuatro kept the talk light, injecting at opportune times snippets that integrated science with pop culture, including a mention of the Korean group BTS (which in chemistry is an abbreviation for the compound n-benzyl-p-toluenesulfonamide).

Dr. Baricuatro’s sister, Leah, who is visiting from New York, his brother Farley and sister-in-law Dia with their children Francesca and Ryan, attended the talk. Both Farley (Class ’90) and Dia (Class ’93) are also alumni of the B.S. Chem. program at USC; Dia holds a Ph.D. specializing in marine geochemistry from the University of Tokyo, while Farley has an M.S. Chem. degree.

Jack, who finished his B.S. Chem. (Class ’93) at USC, graduated summa cum laude. He taught at the USC Department of Chemistry before he pursued his Ph.D. at Texas A&M University. He had a post-doctoral stint at the University of Washington before returning briefly to USC, where he was later persuaded to join two other Carolinian chemists at JCAP, namely Principal Investigator Manuel P. Soriaga, Ph.D. and Alnald C. Javier, Ph.D.

Tags: Chemistry, Sciences

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