Tao Li

Synthesis of Bio‐inspired Functional Nanomaterials for Medical and Energy Applications

My long‐term research objective is to develop a highly fundable bio‐inspired interdisciplinary program to design and synthesize novel hierarchically structured functional nanomaterials with wide‐range applications in nanomedicine and energy‐related fields. My research plan is rationally and progressively prioritized into three phases.

Part A: Developing Multi‐Functional Biomaterials for Drug/Gene Delivery

Development of synthetic materials such as colloids and nanomaterials that could stabilize, organize, and control the activity of proteins/enzymes has been intensely investigated in the fields of medicine and energy technology, but with limited success. I aim to develop a method through the precise control the interaction between polymer and proteins/enzyme to stabilize and preserve their conformation and functionality. My goal is to adapt this technology to generate protein‐based materials (Figure 1) for protein/gene delivery, bio‐imaging, and energy conversion and storage.

Part B: Developing High‐Performance Nano‐Catalysts for Energy Conversion

Carbonaceous feeds, such as oil, gas, and coal, can be catalytically converted to useful products. Many of these reactions are conducted under harsh conditions, where the metal catalysts will rapidly sinter and the reactivity is reduced quickly. My goal is to fabricate the high performance stable catalyst with nano‐porous structures including encapsulating the catalyst in the porous structures and depositing nano‐pores on catalyst (Figure 2). One approach will be used to encapsulate the catalyst inside the porous structures such as metal organic framework (MOF). Another approach will take advantage of colloid chemistry and atomic layer deposition method to stabilize the catalyst with metal oxide layer such as Al2O3, TiO2, and ZrO2. Upon calcination or etching, such materials will become porous structure.

Part C: Developing Advanced Characterization Tools for In Situ and Operando Characterization of Catalytic Materials

Understanding the performance of catalyst under technologically realistic conditions remains big challenge. My goal is to use the advanced characterization tools, especially synchrotron X‐ray techniques for the operando study. Synchrotron X‐ray techniques such as Small‐angle X‐ray Scattering (SAXS), X‐ray Diffraction (XRD), X‐ray Absorption Spectroscopy (XAS) will be utilized for the characterization, especially in‐situ characterization. The simultaneous XAS and SAXS will ensure the exact sample volume is evaluated at the same time with two techniques, which facilitate direct correlation of oxidation state and aggregations state. From the in‐situ XAS/SAXS experiment, we not only can probe the local structures of the metal catalyst, but also obtain how the metal catalysts interact with the solvent and with each other. Such technique could also be used for the nanoparticle growth and assembly.

Figure 1Figure 1. Schematic representation of protein‐based functional materials.

Figure 2Figure 2. Schematic representation of catalyst stabilized by nano‐porous structures.

Tao Li

Assistant Professor
La Tourette Hall 416
Group Site

Educational Background

  • Postdoctoral Research Associate, Argonne National Laboratory, 2010–2013
  • Ph.D. University of South Carolina–Columbia, 2009
  • B.S. East China University of Science and Technology, 2003

Research Interests

Nanocatalysts, electrolytes, nanoparticle synthesis and assembly, drug/protein delivery, enzyme immobilization and synchrotron characterization.

Representative Publications

  • L. Fang, Serifert, R. Winans*, Tao Li.* "Understanding Synthesis and Structural Variation of Nanomaterials Through In Situ/Operando XAS and SAXS". Small2022, 2106017 
  • X. Liu, S. Lee, S. Seifert, R. E. Winans, L. Cheng, Y. Zhang*, Tao Li.* "Insight into the nanostructure of “water-in-salt” electrolytes: a small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS) study on imide-based lithium salts aqueous solutions." Energy Storage Materials2022, 45, 696-703 
  • K. Qian, Y. Zhou, Y. Liu, D. Gosztola, R. Winans, L. Cheng*, Tao Li.* " Understanding the solvation structure of fluorine-free electrolyte with small angle X-ray scattering." Journal of Energy Chemistry2022, 70, 340-346
  • E. Sarnello, Z. Lu, S. Seifert, R. Winans, Tao Li*. "Design and Characterization of ALD-based overcoats for Supported Metal Nanoparticle Catalysts." ACS Catalyst202111, 2605-2619. 
  • K. Qian, S. Serifert, R. Winans*, Tao Li.*"Understanding solvation behavior of the saturated electrolytes with Small/Wide-angle X-ray scattering and Raman spectroscopy". Energy and Fuel2021, 35, 19849-19855.  
  • L. Fang, S. Seifert, R. Winans, Tao Li*."Operando XAS/SAXS: Guiding Design of Single-atom and Sub-nanocluster Catalysts." Small Methods2021, 001194.  
  • K. Qian, R. Winans, Tao Li*. "Insights into the Nanostructure, Solvation, and Dynamics of Liquid Electrolytes through Small-angle X-ray Scattering."Advanced Energy Materials2021, 2002821.  
  • X. Liu, Z. Yu, E. Sarnello, K. Qian, S. Seifert, R. E. Winans, L. Cheng*, Tao Li.* "Microscopic Understanding of the Ionic Aggregates of "Water-in-Salt" Solutions with Synchrotron X-ray Scattering." Energy Materials Advances2021, 7368420  
  • L. Fang, Z. Feng, R. Winans, L. Cheng, Tao Li*. "Research Progress and Perspective towards Single Atoms for Lithium-Sulfur Batteries." Small Methods2020, 2000315.