Chenjie Zeng is a NatureNet Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. She received her undergraduate degree at Nankai University (China), and her Ph.D. degree at Carnegie Mellon University under the guidance of Professor Rongchao Jin. She is a recipient of 2017 IUPAC-Solvay Young Chemists Award for her work on atomically precise gold nanoclusters.
During her Ph.D., Chenjie created a “periodic table” for atomically precise gold nanoclusters. Since the identification of a 36-gold-atom nanocluster, or the element “Kr” in the “periodic table of gold”, Chenjie has discovered a series of nanoclusters with different numbers of gold atoms such as 28 (“Ni”), 44 (“Ru”), 52 (“Te”), 92 (“U”), etc. She also identified a periodic series of gold nanoclusters which have similar structures and properties, making the table of gold nanoclusters closer to a periodic one. These discoveries make Chenjie wonder that periodicity could exist across different length scales and the smaller entities such as nuclei of atoms may also have specific geometric arrangements as the gold nanoclusters.
Chenjie is passionate about bridging chemistry with art and sharing the artistic beauty in nanostructures with the broader public. One piece of “synthetic art” she is most proud of is a tiny grain of gold containing 133 gold atoms, which integrates multiscale structural patterns such as icosahedrons, helices, and vortexes. As part of the MoonArk project, the Au133 nanocluster will be sent to the Moon in 2020 and displayed in the Lunar Museum, waiting to be visited by extraterrestrial life or future human space travelers. For her postdoc research in the labs of Professor Christopher B. Murray and Professor Cherie R. Kagan, Chenjie continues her journey in nanochemistry and art. She focuses on developing new types of “solar pigment” based on semiconductor nanocrystals for “paintable solar cells”. She hopes that in the near future the colorful paints applied in architectures would be not only visually appealing paintings but also powerful solar energy harvesters.