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The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the Center author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Center Overview

The mission of the Center for Rational Catalyst Synthesis (CeRCaS) is to transform the art of heterogeneous catalyst preparation into a science.

Industrial catalytic processes for commodity and specialty chemicals, petroleum refining, pharmaceuticals, and pollution abatement underpin the world’s standard of living and economy. The majority of these processes employ heterogeneous catalysts. Many of these supported metal catalysts, such as automobile catalytic converters, comprise nanoparticles of expensive metals like platinum and rhodium anchored in place on a stable, highly porous “support,” such as aluminum oxide. In a catalytic converter, toxic exhaust components of carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, and unburnt hydrocarbons are adsorbed onto the surface of the metals, where they decompose and rearrange into benign products of carbon dioxide, water, and nitrogen. Since the metals are expensive, the nanoparticles are made as small as possible to get the most active surface per weight of metal. Without anchoring the metals on a support, the nanoparticles will coalesce at high temperature, rapidly diminishing the active surface and killing the catalytic activity.

The development of new or improved supported metal catalysts is a time-consuming and expensive process. The challenge CeRCaS is addressing is to understand the fundamental chemistry of synthesizing ultrasmall metal nanoparticles on supports, or — when two metals are needed as in a catalytic converter — how to place to the two metals in intimate contact to allow them to work together. These efforts will enable a more rational and streamlined approach to catalyst development across the wide range of industries that employ heterogeneous catalysts.


  • Virginia Commonwealth University
  • University of South Carolina
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Center Personnel

John Regalbuto


Bernard Gupton


Research Focus

Fundamental studies of metal deposition
In situ spectroscopy and microscopy of metal deposition and nanoparticle formation.

Precision site synthesis for specific reactions
Simple, scalable synthesis of mono- and multi-metallic catalytic sites in well-dispersed, supported nanoparticles, to enhance activity and selectivity for specific reactions.

Thermodynamics and kinetics of solid-solid bonding
Predicting sintering/wetting and particle size, shape and composition.