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Pursuing Brighter Lights with Rare Earth Elements in Brewer’s Lab


The interesting luminescent properties of the rare earth elements and their compounds have found particular use in LCD screens, fiber optics, lasers and medical imaging. One of the goals of the research projects conducted in Professor of Chemistry Karen Brewer’s lab this summer with her students has been to use basic research to synthesize new materials that will increase the fluorescence, the amount of light given off, by the rare earth elements. Increasing the fluorescence will result in brighter electronics displays or the option of using less of these fairly expensive elements to achieve an equal amount of luminescence.

The Brewer group of students explored the fluorescence of doping rare earth chelated molecules and nanoparticles into silica sol-gel glasses using a post-annealing immersion method. This process involves preparing silica glass the size of beads through a solution-gelation method to obtain porous glass. The pores in the glass can then be used to accommodate luminous rare earth species through soaking them in solutions of rare earth doped materials (as complexes, nanoparticles, and as polymer-bound).

Erin Walicki ’20 closely studied the effect on the fluorescence of the glasses by varying the soak time and the concentration of europium chelates, both as monomers and as incorporated into an organic-silica polymer network.

Melissa Woodward ’19 investigated the incorporation of europium chelated molecules which are bound to short chain organic polymers into the porous glasses and compared the fluorescence properties of the complexes and monomers with that of the europium-containing organic-based polymers.

Liam Bradley ’19 focused on synthesizing and characterizing europium-doped titanium oxide nanocrystals through the solvothermal method and exploring the methods that might be used to incorporate them into porous sol-gel glass.

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