Dr Deanna D'Alessandro wins L'Oreal Australia For Women in Science Fellowship
25 August 2010
Dr Deanna D'Alessandro, from the School of Chemistry, has won a L'Oréal Australia For Women in Science Fellowship worth $20 000 for her work on new crystals that are able to capture carbon dioxide, hydrogen and other gases.
The prestigious fellowship was presented to Dr D'Alessandro on 24 August at the Melbourne Museum by Johan Berg, Managing Director of L'Oréal Australia.
The fellowships recognise women who have shown excellence in their scientific careers and who have an appropriate research plan that will be assisted by the one-year fellowship. They were established to help early-career women scientists consolidate their careers and rise to leadership positions.
Dr D'Alessandro was one of three scientists to win a 2010 L'Oréal Australia For Women in Science Fellowship, chosen from 160 applicants by a panel of eminent scientists. This is the fourth year of the L'Oréal Australia For Women in Science Fellowships, which are supported by the Australian National Commission for UNESCO and endorsed by the Australian Academy of Science.
"I'm very grateful to L'Oréal for this opportunity. The fellowship is going to enable me to really start working on one of my own ideas. It's going to enable me to support a student to work in my lab; it's going to enable me to travel internationally to work with my collaborators at the University of California, Berkeley; and it's also going to enable me to strengthen my collaborations here in Australia with other researchers working on these important problems of greenhouse gas capture and separation," said Dr D'Alessandro.
Working on metal-organic frameworks, Dr D'Alessandro has developed new materials with nanopores that are able to filter gases, such as carbon dioxide or hydrogen, from hot air and capture it.
These absorbant materials have the potential to capture carbon dioxide emissions from power stations and industry, or allow hydrogen to be stored before being used as fuel in cars of the future.
It's all to do with surface area. Dr D'Alessandro has constructed crystals that are full of minute holes - nanopores - which hugely increase the surface area of the crystals. One teaspoon of the most effective of her chemicals has the surface area of a rugby field.
Additionally, the size and shape of the pores can be customised using light. So Dr D'Alessandro is working to create molecular sponges that will mop up carbon dioxide, hydrogen, or almost any other gas - and then release it on cue.
Dr D'Alessandro has always had a passion for chemistry: "At school I realised that chemistry explains everything - what colours the world, who we are, how we got here."
In return, chemistry has rewarded her passion - taking her around the world from her home town of Cairns. "I've presented my work in the US, UK, China and Europe. I love that aspect of science - it's a global activity, a global community."
Dr D'Alessandro's compounds are similar in principle to the molecular structures in seashells and in microscopic marine plants called diatoms. These naturally-occurring materials are commonly used in toothpaste, laundry detergents, kitty litter and industry generally.
The man-made high tech equivalents are crystals known as metal-organic frameworks - clusters of charged metal atoms linked by carbon-based groups. While Dr D'Alessandro didn't invent these frameworks, she has developed new kinds which are more robust and which have molecular pores that can be shaped using light.
Many crystals have been made that can absorb carbon dioxide, but few can survive the hot, wet environment of a power station flue. The best carbon capture technology currently in use is based around toxic chemicals and uses about 40% of the energy generated by the power station.
During her time as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, Dr D'Alessandro created frameworks that could survive the tough environmental conditions and still capture carbon dioxide. They're not ready for commercial use yet, but they are a step closer to cost-effective carbon capture.
Dr D'Alessandro will use her L'Oréal Australia For Women in Science Fellowship to help her take her crystals to the next level. She hopes to create more advanced molecular frameworks, the pores of which can be modified by different wavelengths of light. So, the crystals could be activated to absorb carbon dioxide with red light, for example, and to release it with light of another colour.
Her metal-organic frameworks could also have many other applications, such as hydrogen storage; gas separation; electrodes for sensors, and capacitors for electronic circuits.
In late 2009, Dr D'Alessandro returned to Australia to develop her own career as an independent researcher. "I'm building a research team here in Australia that will help me turn my ideas into reality and contribute to a sustainable future."
The two other 2010 L'Oréal Australia For Women in Science Fellowship winners are Dr Rowena Martin from the Australian National University, Canberra, and Dr Marie-Liesse Asselin-Labat from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne.
Watch a video of Dr Deanna D'Alessandro talking about her 2010 L'Oréal Australia For Women in Science Fellowship at: www.scienceinpublic.com/loreal/fellows/deannadalessandro#vid
Read more about the winners and the fellowships at: www.scienceinpublic.com/loreal/
Contact: Katynna Gill
Phone: 02 9351 6997