Archive for September, 2013

We’ve had a new paper accepted in J. Mater. Chem. A – “Carbon Electrocatalysts with Trimodal Porosity from a Homogeneous Polypeptide Gel” (click on the photo)


(reproduced from Wikipedia. Date: Taken on July 18, 2006 Author: Father.Jack)

This was a big collaborative effort between scientists in the UK, China and Japan. The lead author is Zoe Schnepp, at the University of Birmingham 

The work basically shows how gelatin, commonly found in jelly babies, and cheap metal salts (iron and magnesium nitrate) can be combined and heated to make a composite material that is as capable of speeding up (catalysing) a key process in certain types of fuel cells. Not only this, but it exhibits an equal performance to the current commercial alternative based on palladium, which is both expensive and comparably scarce.

My involvement, alongside Brian Pauw was in characterising the material using small-angle X-ray scattering. Using this technique and Brian’s new fitting approach (available Open Access from, we were able to identify the various structures (pores, particles) within the structure and to find their bulk average size distributions. The results agreed very well with the TEM images, which provide visual verification but cannot easily provide the statistically significant bulk averaged data.

We hope to continue this collaboration in the future – currently, we’re applying for funding to use beamlines at both the Diamond and ISIS facilities to further characterise these and related materials. Watch this space!

This article, which was written in collaboration Takashi Nakanishi, NIMS, Japan, recently appeared in the Journal of Materials Chemistry C. In it, we highlight the strategy of using branched alkyl, rather than linear n-alkyl chains to control the assembly properties of organic molecules that have applications in organic electronics. We generally find that branched chains soften the organic material to a greater extent (than linear chains), permitting larger assemblies to form through modulated nucleation and growth steps. This leads to improved optoelectronic properties. In a second section, we focus on recent work that has identified organic functional liquids and explored their potential. We discuss their use both in OLEDs and also as fluorescent paints. The reviewers were particularly supportive of this work, complementing us on its clarity, quality of writing and the importance of the chosen examples. We hope other readers will find it equally useful.

Please click on the image below to go to the article at RSC publishing