1) Designing and Understanding Catalysts for Clean Energy.
If we are really going to make a technology that will change the world, it needs to be about as cheap as dirt, so this is where we start looking for our building blocks. We study water splitting catalysts, we study CO2 reduction, we study Nitrogen Transformation Chemistry, all with common earth materials as either substrates or catalysts. A current focus for us is the role of meta-stability in the energetics of catalytic systems.
2) Environmental Management and Soil Chemistry
In North Queensland we face some of the most complex environmental challenges on the planet, many involve small molecule transformations, and they involve understanding the thermodynamics of mineral formation and disolution. One of our greatest land use conflicts involves developing the North for Agriculture but at the same time preserving the reef. This involves understanding the chemistry and behaviour of fertilizers, of runoff and of small molecules in natural systems. It involves understanding in detail the biological processes which form CaCO3. A current focus for us in this area is understanding how natural phases act to transform nitrogen run off, that may ultimately assist in land management.
3) The Origin of Life and Astrobiology
As we seek to develop new materials that reduce CO2 to hydrocarbons, that take water to oxygen and hydrogen we find we increasingly find ourselves seeing parallels between abiotic chemistry and biological chemistry, that are key to understanding the origin of life. A current focus for us in this area is in understanding the role that meta-stability has in altering the reaction chemistry of the sacrificial reactions thought to be important in some of the earliest metabolisms.