Meet Leo Brody

I’m a third year PhD candidate in Prof. Fanxing Li’s research group in the department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. For fun, I enjoy reading, playing blitz chess, and learning foreign languages (specifically French). My career goal is to work at a national lab like NREL or NETL where I can continue to work on research related to sustainable fuels production via catalysis. I’m currently in the last few months of my first of two 5-month research visits to Technische Universität Berlin, the second of which will be partially supported by the Kenan Institute’s Climate Leaders Program.  


What instruments are you using for your research and why do you like them?

I most often use the XRD instruments: the Rigaku SmartLab, X’Pert, and PANalytical Empyrean for my research, but I also frequently work with the PHOIBOS 150 for XPS. Specifically, the Rigaku and X’Pert diffractometers are essential for the work that I do, and their ease of operation and convenient location makes fast data acquisition much easier. I’ve also used data acquired from the FEI Verios 460L and the ION-TOF SIMS 5, but since they are featured less frequently in my work I am not trained on these instruments. 

What have you been researching and how is it impacting the community?

I work on the optimization and characterization of a special class of materials we refer to as  “Phase Transition Sorbents” (PTSs). In brief, these are materials that can be used for in-situ capture of CO2 in reactions where CO2 is an undesired product (like biomass gasification for example). Unlike most commonly used CO2 sorbents, PTSs are less prone to irreversible sintering and the subsequent loss of capture efficiency because they can phase change back to their original structure during the CO2 release step, which is typically conducted under air at a higher temperature. Currently, I am working with perovskite oxides for my thesis, but other members of my group are expanding the materials space to other mixed metal oxides such as Ruddlesden-Popper phase materials and CeOx-stabilized metal oxides. Very little is known about the complex series of solid-state reactions that occur under reaction environments and what sorts of intermediates present kinetic barriers to CO2 capture. The tools at AIF have been indispensable for helping me to shed light on these complicated phase transitions and improve our optimization strategies.
In-Situ XRD pattern collected on the Empyrean showing the reduction/carbonation of a perovskite sample in hydrogen and carbon dioxide followed by a regeneration step in air at 850 C

It’s hard to say how my research is impacting the community right now, as my first paper on the topic of PTSs ( is less than a year old, but we hope that our following publications will provide deeper mechanistic insights in how these PTS materials function. My work is part of a larger DOE-funded project aiming to improve the quality of syngas produced from biomass gasification. This means that these materials, if proven successful at scale, could be implemented anywhere where in-situ CO2 capture is required! 

What have you learned from your experience at AIF?

I’ve learned that good materials characterization requires patience, an eye for detail, and complementary approaches. Knowing which combination of characterization methods can be used to verify a hypothesis is something that the experts at AIF are well-equipped to help researchers with.
Best thing about AIF in 5 words or less? 
Ease of accessibility

Is there a staff member at AIF that has helped you?

Many have helped me, but two come to mind that have been very impactful: Dr. Fred Stevies and Dr. Jenny Forrester. Fred, who’s now retired, trained me on the PHOIBOS as well as how to deconvolute XPS spectra in CasaXPS. He really impressed upon me the importance of quality data analysis and not fooling oneself into drawing convenient conclusions if the data doesn’t make physical/chemical sense. Jenny has been patiently helping me learn Rietveld refinement (hey Jenny, did I spell it right this time?) via zoom meetings throughout my stay in Berlin. She is truly an expert and teaches me something new each time we sit down together. I’d also like to include a quick shout out to Dr. Chuanzhen (Elaine) Zhou for further training me on the PHOIBOS and stepping into the big shoes that Fred left behind.