Author ORCID Identifier

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Frank Gupton

Second Advisor

Arthur Reber

Third Advisor

Shiv Khanna

Fourth Advisor

Christina Tang

Fifth Advisor

Stephen Fong


Palladium-catalyzed carbon-carbon cross-coupling reactions have emerged a broadly useful, selective and widely applicable method to synthesize pharmaceutical active ingredients. As currently practiced in the pharmaceutical industry, homogeneous Pd catalysts are typically used in cross-coupling reactions. The rational development of heterogeneous catalysts for cross-coupling reactions is critical for overcoming the major drawbacks of homogeneous catalysis including difficulties in the separation, purification, and quality control process in drug production. In order to apply heterogeneous catalysis to flow reactors that may overcome this limitation, the catalyst must be strongly bound to a support, highly stable with respect to leaching, and highly active. While the primary role of supports in catalysis has been to anchor metal particles to prevent sintering and leaching, supports can also activate catalytic processes. In this study, by using a xi combined theoretical and experimental method, we probed the effect of graphene as support in the complex reaction cycle of Suzuki reactions. The density functional theory study provides a fundamental understanding of how a graphene support strongly binds the Pd nanoparticles and act as both an efficient charge donor and acceptor in oxidation and reduction reaction steps. Theoretical investigations prove that the Pd-graphene interaction promotes electron flow between the metal cluster and the defected graphene to reduce reaction barrier. The ability for graphene to both accept and donate charge makes graphene an unusually suitable support for multi-step catalytic processes that involve both oxidation and reduction steps. The computer-aided catalyst design with the atomic precise accuracy demonstrates the Pd/graphene catalyst can be further optimized and the first-row transition metal nanoparticles have great potential to replace Pd to catalyze the Suzuki reaction. The corresponding experimental study shows that the method to immobilize the Pd nanoparticles on the graphene is crucial to increasing the reactivity and stability of the resulted catalyst. A comparison of the activation energy and turn over frequency for a series of supported and homogeneous catalysts indicates that exposing palladium-graphene to defect inducing microwave radiation results in dramatically lower activation energies and higher turnover frequencies. Furthermore, the heterogeneity tests demonstrate the Suzuki reactions are carried out on the surface of the immobilized Pd nanoparticle agreeing with the theoretical results. A method to engineer the 2-D graphene support to a 3-D structure to minimize the re-stacking and agglomeration of the graphene lattice will also be introduced in this study.


© Yuan Yang

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