University of California Davis’ Dr. Kristie Koski joined the Brandeis Chemistry Department on Wednesday for a discussion of innovative chemistry approaches in two-dimensional materials. The event, held in Gerstenzang Science Library, was part of the department’s colloquia series.

A 2015 National Science Foundation Career Award Winner and Professor at UC Davis, Koski focused on the synthesis and properties of 2D materials in everyday life. As a professor of both physics and chemistry, Koski uses her diverse scientific experience to find new and creative ways to solve both common and complex problems in materials chemistry.

Koski sought to thoroughly explain the necessity of researching 2D materials from a chemical, physical and economical context, she said.

Koski’s lab researches a compound similar to the 2D material bentonite, one of the United States’ largest exports. Koski used bentonite as a prime example of the manufacturing industry’s reliance on 2D materials, highlighting that the compound is present in a diverse group of everyday products. Bentonite, for example, is responsible for the absorption of water in cat litter, the length of time a battery operates and the solid-liquid texture of yogurt, said Koski.

Koski expressed the connection between the utility of these materials and their effect on the emerging oil industry. She explained that during the early 1900s, the efficiency of oil rigs was limited by the depth a drill could reach. However, Anthony Lucas, a Croatian oil explorer, overcame this limit by using bentonite as a “solid lubricant” for the oil drill, which enabled the drills to maintain performance at lower depths, said Koski. With this in mind, the oil industry supported the research of bentonite’s solid-lubricant properties, as it enabled deeper pockets of crude oil to be reached, a technique still used to improve the effectiveness of oil drills today.

In physics, Koski explained that these normally layered 2D materials can also be easily separated and organized as a single sheet of material, which she says will help her lab understand how electrical currents interact with the chemicals. This discovery enables 2D molecules to have a positive impact on the electrical industry, providing a potentially cost-effective way to improve the structure of circuits. Koski explained that this application can improve lighting efficiency and can also lead to more optimized functions for mobile phone manufacturing.

Koski also analyzed the synthetic utility of bentonite as a drying agent, explaining that the compound’s layers present a “gap” between two adjacent molecules of bentonite that not only enables easy manipulation of the compound but also allows small molecules like water to be captured.

Koski believes that, by forming new materials to mimic the properties that bentonite displays, materials chemistry can help form cost effective alternatives to the expensive substance.

Currently, the Koski group at UC Davis is at the cutting edge of this research, having developed its own substitute for bentonite known as bismuth selenide.

The group has used the compound to monitor its properties. With this in mind, Koski explained that her group continues to ameliorate the larger “gap” present in bismuth selenide and research potential commercial uses for the material.

By focusing more on materials research and the promotion of 2D materials, Koski emphasized the effectiveness of these materials in modern society, proposing that 2D materials can be an eco-friendly answer to improving everyday technology.