Human activities emit 37.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually, which drastically disrupts the Earth’s natural carbon cycle. Researchers from across the world are working hard to capture carbon dioxide and convert it into something useful. However, this artificial process that imitates photosynthesis is highly difficult due to the carbon dioxide molecule’s high chemical stability and difficulty in conversion.
Ying Wang, an assistant professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, China, believes that every complicated problem has a fundamental scientific question, and the core of the research is to find out the science. She developed a joint experimental and computational approach to accurately quantify the reaction of nanomaterials and revealed the complicated electrode kinetics of CO2 conversion. She confirmed the presence of “negative” nano-catalysts: catalysts can also slow down the reactions instead of accelerating the process. The discovery resulted in the successful construction of a number of catalysts that can convert CO2 into products like ethylene, which is often used in polymers, plastics, and various chemical industries. Her work brought the rational design of catalysts to fruition – a long-held dream of scientists and engineers.