Dwight Seferos receives Award for Research Excellence in Materials Chemistry

December 6, 2023 by Alyx Dellamonica

The Department of Chemistry is proud to announce that Dr. Dwight Seferos has received the 2024 CSC - Award for Research Excellence in Materials Chemistry Award.

The Award for Research Excellence in Materials Chemistry is presented to a Canadian citizen or landed immigrant who has made an outstanding contribution to materials chemistry while working in Canada. This prize comes with an invitation to give a symposium award lecture at the Canadian Chemistry and Conference and Exhibition  in Winnipeg in June. It is the latest in a career notable for its successes: Seferos has received multiple honours in the past, including the DuPont Young Professor Award, Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, the RSC Rutherford Metal in Chemistry, and the CIC Award in Macromolecular Science.

Research in the Seferos group focuses on the design, preparation and application of organic materials. These materials are largely composed of carbon; bonding within their molecules gives them a range of properties that are useful for technological applications. For example, Seferos and his group have demonstrated an ability to synthesize semiconducting and conducting plastics. In simple terms, this means making components for electronics without sourcing minerals in ways that require costly, environmentally damaging mining and extraction.

"We can build molecules for function, just as an engineer can design a bridge or skyscraper," explains Seferos. "Our 'building materials' are atoms and the bonds they form when they become molecules."

Another area where the group is active is in using organic materials in energy storage applications. Organic materials hold promise as less-scarce materials for electrodes and other components in a range of emerging battery technologies. The Seferos group designs materials with specific functional groups such as carbonyl groups to maximize the amount of charge that can be stored through redox chemistry. Such molecules form the basis of lightweight low density energy storage, offering a range of newer and better designs for batteries, which can then be seamlessly integrated into clothing or applied in electric aviation, where low density is critical.

"Many of the materials we make for this application are intrinsically porous, whereby they have networks of tiny (nanoscale) tunnels that shuttle ions back and forth during charging and discharging. This is important, because it allows these materials to accommodate the ions that balance the charge, without changing their overall size. Battery life is often shortened by charging and discharging for this reason--which is why your mobile phone held a charge for a lot longer when you first bought it."

Seferos notes that all of these emerging applications are enabled by synthetic organic chemistry – precisely the types of reactions that undergraduates students begin learning in their first year at UofT!