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Center for Rational Catalyst Synthesis (CeRCaS)

University of South Carolina

Virginia Commonwealth University

Last Reviewed: 01/15/2020

World leading expertise at USC and VCU (and soon to be UC Berkeley/UC Davis as a third site) is being brought to bear on the fundamentals of supported metal catalyst synthesis.

Center Mission and Rationale

Industrial catalytic processes underpin the world’s standard of living and economy.  The majority of these processes emply heterogeneous catalysts.  CeRCaS’ mission is to help transform the highly empirical art of supported metal catalyst preparation into a science.  Industry-funded research at CeRCaS will allow researchers to demonstrate rational, scalable, bottom-up syntheses of supported single metal and bimetallic catalysts with previously unachievable control of metal nanoparticle size and metal1-metal2 interactions.

Industrial members will benefit from 1) A 15:1 funding leverage, 2) Opportunities to network and partner with thought leaders in the industry, 3) Early access to technology breakthroughs and potential commercialization through shared IP, 4) Access to potential customers: other petroleum and chemical companies and catalyst manufacturers in the business of catalyst development, 5) Access to graduate students at the forefront of rational catalyst synthesis and development, trained with an industrial outlook, and 6) Direct input into specific research projects.

Research program

Fundamental Studies of Metal Deposition

In-Situ spectroscopy and microscopy of metal deposition and nanoparticle formation.

Precision site synthesis for specific reactions

Simple, scalable synthesis of mono- and mulit-metallic catalytic sites in well dispersed supported nanoparticles, to enhance activity and selectivity for specific reactions.

Thermodynamics and Kinetics of Solid-Solid Bonding.

Predicting sintering/wetting and particle size, shape and composition.

Facilities and Laboratory

USC Facilities

A significant portion of CeRCaS research facilities is located in a state-of-the art research building called Horizon I. It contains 125,000 square feet dry lab, wet lab, and office space. The laboratory facilities in CeRCaS contain a host of state-of-the-art instruments for the characterization of nanomaterials including physisorption and chemisorption, powder x-ray diffraction, inductively coupled spectrophotometry, and atomic absorbance. The Horizon site is located near the Swearingen Engineering Center (home of the Department of Chemical Engineering), the Graduate Science Research Center (home of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry), the USC NanoCenter (a collaborative center between the College of Engineering and Computing and the College of Arts and Science), and the newly forming research and development campus called Innovista. Central research facilities are located in the Graduate Science Research Center (GSRC) is a $36 million building totals completed in 2000, and contains 158,000 square feet of laboratory and office space.


The facilities, which are staffed by numerous full time professionals, include:

• JEOL 2100F Scanning High Resolution Transmission Electron Microscope (SHRTEM). The instrument is aberration-corrected and consists of a 200kV SHRTEM equipped with field emission gun (FEG), scanning transmission detector (STEM), high angle annular dark field detector (HAADF), energy dispersive analysis (EDX), electron energy loss spectrometry (EELS), and energy filtered imaging (EFTEM).  It is staffed by a full time scientist.

• 1 Hitachi H-8000 200 kV transmission electron microscope with STEM, AMT digital camera, Kevex x-ray microanalysis system.

• Kratos Axis Ultra DLD X-ray photoelectron spectrometer (XPS) equipped with a monochromated Al Ka x-ray source and hemispherical analyzer and an attached catalysis cell.  The insturment is staffed by a full time scientist.

•  Two Rigaku Miniflex powder x-ray diffractometers with high sensitivity D/tex Ultra detectors. 

•  Rigaku Smartlab in-situ powder x-ray diffractometer with high sensitivity D/tex Ultra detector. 

• Digital Instruments Nanoscope III scanning probe microscope (AFM, STM, FM).

• Omicron UHV STM with XPS, LEED.

• Mattsson Infinity AR60 infrared spectrometer.

• Perkin Elmer TGA7 and DSC7 thermogravimetric analyzer and differential scanning calorimeter.

• NMR facility with Varian Mercury 300, Bruker 400, Varian Mercury 400, Varian Inova 500 instruments; fully multinuclear, high resolution instruments for both solution and solid state analysis.

• Mass Spectrometry facility with 7 instruments, with CI, EI, FAB, MALDI capabilities.


Central computational facilities available for this project include full access to a Chemical Engineering computer cluster and two College of Engineering and Computing computer clusters at USC. The Chemical Engineering computer cluster consists of 64 compute nodes with dual core dual AMD Opteron processors (Gigabit Ethernet interconnect). One of the College computer clusters consist of 76 compute nodes with dual core dual XEON processors (Infiniband interconnect). The other College computer is a SGI Altix machine with 128 Itanium cores.


For catalyst evaluation there are eight gas phase, plug flow reactors, all with on-line gas sample loops and continuous operation capabilities, even of which can be operated at high pressures. There are also have four 100 ml, high pressure autoclave reactors for operation up to 3000 psig. Each reactor has its own manifold of mass flow controllers for conducting hydrogenation, oxidation, or carbonylation reactions. Product analysis is conducted using either GC w/ autosampler or HPLC w/autosampler.


VCU Facilities

VCU opened its Nanomaterials Core Characterization Facility in 2009 ( This center is a state of the art 1,400 sq ft facility which was funded by two NSF-MRI grants. The facility features a ThermoFisher ESCAlab 250 X-ray photoelectron spectrometer. The ESCALab is a multitechnique platform for studying the surface of materials. The instrument is equipped with a 95-nm field emission gun for Auger spectroscopy and SEM imaging with a 90-nm special resolution and a UV photoelectron lamp. The system also has a High Pressure Gas Cell for introduction of reactive gases for absorption studies. The center also has two scanning electron microscopes: a Hitachi Su-u70 FE-SEM and a JEOL JSM-5610 LV. The Hitachi SEM is a field emission unit which allows for a 1nm special resolution. The unit also is equipped with a STEM option, a Nabity Lithography System and Genesis EDAX system with low element windows for detection of Be to Pu. The JEOL system is also equipped with an Oxford EDS system and is equipped for High Vacuum SEM as well as Low Pressure SEM functions. In addition, the Center has a Zeiss Auriga focused ion beam scanning electron microscope, a Libra 120 transmission electron microscope, a Veeco Icon atomic force microscope, a Zeiss LSM 710 laser scanning microscope, a Skyscan 1173 microCT and a Quantum Design vibrational scanning magnetometer.


VCU has several other facilities available on a fee for service basis such as the Microscopy Resource Center ( This center houses a JEOL JEM- 1230 100 eV transmission electron microscope equipped with a Gatan Ultrascan 4000SP CCD camera, a Zeiss EM 10CA 100 eV transmission electron microscope and a JEOL JSM-820 scanning electron microscope. The facility also houses sputter coaters and ultramicrotomes for electron microscopy sample preparation. There is also a Leica TCS-SP2 AOBS confocal laser scanning electron microscope with an inverted spectrophotometer head, high resolution Märzhäuser MCX-2 motorized XY stage and 3 confocal detectors plus a transmitted light detector. The facility houses a Zeiss LSM 510 META NLO multi-photon laser scanning microscope with internal detectors plus a transmitted light detector. The system has 4 lasers: a Spectra-Physics Mia-Tia broadband tunable Ti:sapphire laser (710-900 nm), for multi-photon imaging as well as Argon (458, 476, 514 nm), 561 diode (561 nm), and red HeNe (633 nm). Tuning of the Ti:sapphire laser is controlled directly via the LSM software. A number of high resolution and water immersion IR objective lenses are available for multi-photon imaging. The META detector enables lambda scanning of fluorescence and em emission “fingerprinting” as well as unmixing of signals from fluors with overlapping emission profiles.


University of South Carolina

541 Main Street

Columbia, South Carolina, 29208

United States

Virginia Commonwealth University

601 Main Street
P.O. Box 843028

Richmond, Virginia, 23284-9068

United States

804 828-4799