Vasiliou Group

Research Interests:

Chemical Physics of Organic Molecules

The Vasiliou lab focuses on thermal chemical mechanisms with particular focus on the identification and characterization of reactive intermediates. Currently the Vasiliou group is investigating the reaction mechanisms for the thermal decomposition of sulfur compounds. Raw energy sources such as coal, petroleum, and biomass all contain varying quantities of sulfur contaminants. Converting raw energy sources into useable liquid fuels is a complicated process involving many steps but two aspects that all methods share are 1) use of heat to break chemical bonds of larger organic molecules into smaller semi-volatile or volatile species and 2) removal of sulfur during the refining process prior to fuel distribution. The thermolysis chemistry of the sulfur compounds encountered in petroleum and biofuels is poorly understood or completely unknown. The Vasiliou lab characterizes the primary decomposition products and removes speculation about how thermolysis reactions are initiated in relevant biomass and petroleum sulfur molecules.  All experiments use a hyperthermal nozzle configured to matrix isolation infrared absorption and vacuum ultraviolet photoionization mass spectroscopies. These techniques allow for thermal tuneablity (298-1700 K) and sensitive detection of intermediate species such as radicals. In addition to the experimental studies, the thermal decomposition mechanisms of sulfur species are also investigated theoretically using density function theory and ab initio quantum chemical techniques.

Molecular Organic Frameworks

Natural gas (methane) production is rising domestically, and its comparatively cheap cost and low emissions make methane an attractive fuel for the transportation industry. Current physical gas storage constraints, such as tank size and heat transfer, hinder a shift to methane as a consumer transport fuel impractical. Recent research shows that absorptive solid-state storage allows for smaller, lighter, and cheaper tanks. The most promising of such sorptive materials are metal organic frameworks (MOFs): highly porous metal lattices with organic linkers. In the Vasiliou Lab we synthesize MOF’s and use a Sievert’s style apparatus to test the framework’s capacity to store three different methane-dominated gases: research quality methane, pipeline quality methane (common natural gas) and biomethane (reclaimed methane from composting).


Techniques used:

Experimental

  • Matrix Isolation Spectroscopy
  • Photoionization Time of Flight Spectroscopy
  • Sievert’s Apparatus for Metal Organic Frameworks

Computational

  • Electronic Quantum Structure Calculations

Lab Group:

  • *Jared Whitman (Chemistry 2017)
  • *Thomas Cowell (Chemistry 2017)
  • *Stuart Yandell (Chemistry 2017)
  • Maggie Philips (Chemistry and Dance 2019)

Alumni:

  • *Jessica Kong (Chemistry 2015) Ph.D. candidate, University of Washington
  • *William Melhado (Chemistry, 2016) High School Chemistry Teacher, New York, NY
  • *Daniel Anderson (Chemistry and Mathematics, 2016)
  • Shelby Redfield (Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, 2016)
  • Toby Aicher (Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, 2016.5)
  • Stergiani Lentzou (Neuroscience, 2018)
  • Colin McIntyre (Physics, 2015) Research Analyst, Brattle Group, Cambridge, MA

*Indicates senior thesis student