P356: HARPOON: A research project to explore electrochemistry and catalysis in the context of solar energy conversion
The appeal of using abundant resources, such as solar energy and water, to produce chemical fuels has increased the urgency to optimize all aspects of the photoelectrolysis of water. This challenge requires the best minds available, and high school and undergraduate STEM education plays a critical role in molding the interests of students to produce an informed citizenry and develop tomorrow’s leaders in science and technology. The HARPOON project (an acronym for Heterogeneous Anodes Rapidly Perused for Oxygen Overpotential Neutralization) utilizes a parallel screening assay developed in the Stahl lab to engage students in the search for and understanding of promising electrocatalysts for water oxidation, which is the anodic half reaction of water splitting. Students design and prepare electrodes decorated with arrays of earth-abundant mixed-metal oxide catalysts and test the activity of these materials using a simple constant-current power supply to drive the water oxidation reaction and an O2-sensitive paint to detect the oxygen evolved by active catalysts. The HARPOON experiment has been successfully used as an independent undergraduate research project and implementation in undergraduate teaching laboratories is underway. The simplicity and affordability of the experiment should allow HARPOON to find a wider audience within a range of venues, including high schools, colleges and universities, and in informal science education. The experiment introduces many chemical concepts, including electrochemistry, inorganic materials, catalysis, redox chemistry, fluorescence, pH, and solutions.