Alexander Alabugin is a senior in chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and will pursue his PhD studies at the California Institute of Technology as a Hertz Fellow and a National Science Foundation Fellow.
Alexander has been conducting catalysis research at MIT since the summer after his freshman year, when he joined the lab of Professor Yogesh Surendranath. During his first project, he helped develop a fuel cell anode that leverages a mixed electron-proton conducting thin film of tungsten trioxide to selectively oxidize hydrogen. Materials experience intersects with surface chemistry and molecular synthesis in his current work: designing active sites for surface catalysis by functionalizing graphitic edges on carbon materials with iron porphyrins. The formation of conjugated bonds creates a “graphite-conjugated catalyst”, a metal complex strongly coupled to the Fermi sea of electrons in carbon. By applying a functionalized carbon colloid to catalyze proton-coupled electron transfer oxidations, he works to understand the fundamental coordination chemistry of these uniquely heterogenized metal centers; in particular, their ability to stabilize reactive intermediates pertinent to C-H oxidation chemistry.
In his PhD, Alexander intends to unravel inorganic reaction mechanisms with techniques ranging from X-ray absorption to electron resonance and Mössbauer spectroscopy. Drawing on kinetic parameters and spectral data, he seeks to refine correlations between crystal structure, electronic structure, and observed reactivity into predictive relationships that guide the synthesis of new catalysts for the activation of molecules like CO2, N2, and CH4.
Alexander was born in Madison, Wisconsin and grew up in Tallahassee, Florida. Outside of his research, he enjoys listening to electronic music, writing and reading science fiction, and playing geopolitical simulation games with his friends.
2017, Freshman Chemistry Achievement Award, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
2019, ACS Analytical Chemistry Award, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
2019, Outstanding Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program Presentation Award, Massachusetts Institute of Technology