439002 Metal-ion-based materials chemistry for hydrocarbon separations, energy, and electronics applications

Sunday, November 8, 2015
Exhibit Hall 1 (Salt Palace Convention Center)
Matthew G. Cowan, Dept. of Chemical and Biological Engineering, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO; Dept. of Chemistry & Biochemistry, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO

3rd year postdoctoral fellow

Research Interests:

My primary research interest is to use coordination chemistry, the science of metal-ions, to develop materials for olefin/paraffin separations. I choose this as the focus of my research because olefins, and the plastics and polymers made from these molecules, are vital to society. Furthermore, olefins are currently purified by cryogenic distillation—in the United States alone this process consumes the equivalent energy to that produced by over 7 ‘average’ nuclear power plants. Obviously, the electrical energy, economic, and environmental benefits that could be achieved by developing a ‘low-energy’ method of achieving olefin/paraffin separations make this a worthy goal.

My secondary research interest is to use soft-materials chemistry to develop technologies for the organization of magnetically and electrochemically active molecules. I choose this as a focus of my research because these organized materials will play a key role in developing advanced electronics devices and battery technologies. In particular, many research groups worldwide focus on developing molecules suitable for molecular electronics. However, there is little effort at developing materials from these molecules or developing engineering practices to see the successful inclusion of these molecules into functional devices. For these reasons, I consider that the development of such technologies and techniques will be of particular scientific and industrial value in the near future.

Successful Proposals and Awards:

Elman Poole Travelling Scholarship (2011; $25,000 award for international PhD research; 3 awardees)

Claude McCarthy Fellowship (2010, $5,000 award for collaborative international research, 23 awardees)

North American Membrane Society Travel Award (2013, conference attendance, 12 awardees)

Wiley Outstanding Poster Award at ISMSC-7 (2012, 1 awardee)

Finalist for the Don Stranks Award (2011, conference attendance, 6 finalists)

Postdoctoral Projects: “Olefin/paraffin separation materials” ($135,000 funded by the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation); “A high-performance membrane for CO2/N2 separations” ($3.4 million funded by the US Department of Energy); “An electrochemical pump for CO2 capture” (ca. $1 million funded by the US Department of Energy).

Under supervision of Richard D. Noble and Doug L. Gin, Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, University of Colorado at Boulder

PhD Dissertation: “The Development of Imide Coordination Chemistry”

Under supervision of Sally Brooker, Chemistry Department, University of Otago, New Zealand

Research Experience:

My research experience combines chemical engineering in materials chemistry and applications with pure chemistry studying small-molecule design and molecular electronics. My transition from PhD studies in metal-ion coordination chemistry into polymeric and ionic liquid materials design, has allowed me to excel in a series of interdisciplinary projects—and will continue to do so in the future.

In particular, I have also been part of a successful academic/industrial research team funded by the US Department of Energy that developed high-performance membrane materials for CO2 separations (in conjunction with the 3M Company and Los Alamos National Lab, 5 publications).

As the lead researcher on smaller projects, I have achieved breakthroughs in developing solid sorbents for olefin/paraffin separations (Angew. Chem.) and developing switchable molecules for molecular electronics (JACS).

Teaching Experience:

I have taught 8 undergraduate chemistry laboratory courses, supervised the accredited research projects of 2 undergraduate chemical engineering students, and mentored 4 chemical engineering PhD students—2 of whom have graduated. I have also completed courses in mentoring research students and teaching laboratory courses.

Future Direction:

As a faculty member I will continue to direct my research to identifying and solving problems where materials and coordination chemistry can be combined into effective solutions. In particular, I intend to seek out industrial and governmental partners to identify and accurately define targets for this research, as well as collaborate with them to develop the resulting technologies into commercially viable products.

Selected Publications:

M. G. Cowan, W. M. McDanel, H. H. Funke, Y. Kohno, D. L. Gin, R. D. Noble, “High Ethene/Ethane Selectivity in 2,2-Bipyridine-based Silver(I) Complexes via Removal of Coordinated Solvent”, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2015, 54, 5740-5743. ‘VIP’ (Assessed as top 5% of papers by two referees).

M. G. Cowan, J. Olguín, S. Narayanaswamy, J. L. Tallon, S. Brooker, “Reversible Switching of a Cobalt Complex by Thermal, Pressure and Electrochemical Stimuli:  Abrupt, Complete, Hysteretic Spin Crossover”, J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2012, 134, 2892-2894. Front Cover Feature.


X. Feng, M. E. Tousley, M. G. Cowan, B. R. Wiesenauer, S. Nejati, Y. Choo, R. D. Noble, M. Elimelech, D. L. Gin, C. O. Osuji, “Scalable Fabrication of Polymer Membranes with Vertically Aligned 1-nm Pores by Magnetic Field Directed Self-Assembly”, ACS Nano, 2014, 8, 11977-11986. ACS Editors Choice.


J. Zhou, M. M. Mok, M. G. Cowan, W. M. McDanel, T. K. Carlisle, D. L. Gin, R. D. Noble, “High-permeance Room-temperature Ionic Liquid-based Membranes for CO2/N2 Separation”, Ind. Eng. Chem. Res. 2014, 53, 20064-20067. Highlighted on the US DOE website.


Review Articles:


M. G. Cowan, “The Application of Membrane Technology to Post-Combustion Separation of Carbon Dioxide from Coal-Fired Power Plant Flue Gas”, Chem. N.Z., 2015, 79: 79-83.


M. G. Cowan, S. Brooker, “Syntheses, Structures and Properties of Structurally Characterised Complexes of Imide-based Ligands”, Coord. Chem. Rev. 2012, 256, 2944-2971.

Extended Abstract: File Uploaded