Group name Multifunctional Materials Group

Group leader Camille Petit

Location Department of Chemical Engineering, Imperial College London (ICL)

Further information

Professor Camille Petit.
Professor Camille Petit.
Professor Petit’s group at ICL.
Professor Petit’s group at ICL.
A heterojunction formed of TiO2 nanofibers is shown decorated with metal–organic framework particles. The controlled morphology, obtained via an in-situ process, enhances charge transfer and CO2 photoreduction.
A heterojunction formed of TiO2 nanofibers is shown decorated with metal–organic framework particles. The controlled morphology, obtained via an in-situ process, enhances charge transfer and CO2 photoreduction.

Porous materials could be pivotal in tackling some of the global challenges facing society in sustainable energy and water supply. With an almost infinite range of different materials with unique properties, porous materials offer new ways of separating, storing, and reacting materials.

Camille Petit has always been interested in bridging the gap between science – in this case an understanding of the formation, structure, and chemistry of porous materials – and engineering, and turning that knowledge into useful technologies in separation and solar fuel production.

She received a BSc and an MSc from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Chimie de Montpellier in France and a PhD from the Graduate Center of The City University of New York in the USA. After a postdoc at Columbia University, Petit was appointed as a lecturer at Imperial College London. Now a senior lecturer, she focuses on the design, synthesis, characterization, and testing of porous materials for separation applications related to environmental, water, and energy sustainability. She is also Associate Editor of the journal Frontiers in Energy - Carbon Capture, Storage, and Utilization.

Camille talked to Materials Today about her current research and future plans.

How long has your group been running?

My first PhD students joined the group in October 2014 so it has been five years already!

How many staff currently makes up your group?

This varies throughout the year and from year to year, but we typically count around 10 permanent researchers. At the moment, we have four postdoctoral researchers, six PhD students, five MSc students and three interns.

What are the major themes of research in your group?

Our research themes revolve around elucidating the fundamentals of porous materials formation, structure, and chemistry to exploit them in interfacial applications, i.e. separation of molecules and solar fuel production. Both applications have sustainability goals.

The porous materials we work with include crystalline (e.g. metal organic frameworks) and amorphous materials (e.g. porous boron nitride). We cover both the understanding of the materials chemistry and physics, as well as the practical implications related to their application in real scenarios. In other words, we like to bridge science and engineering! 

How and why did you come to work in these areas?

Both my PhD and postdoctoral activities were related to the development of materials and their application in sustainability-related areas. I really enjoyed these experiences and it seemed natural to continue exploring these areas of research. There are so many porous materials and the range of their properties is somewhat infinite. It offers a fantastic and fascinating prospect for an academic career!

What facilities and equipment does your lab have?

Our lab is a wet chemistry laboratory equipped with material synthesis kit (e.g. tubular furnaces, oven, autoclaves, fume cupboards), material characterization equipment (e.g. porosity analyzer, thermogravimetric analyzer), and material testing set-ups (e.g. breakthrough sorption analyzer, high-pressure equilibrium sorption analyzer, gas chromatographs, photocatalytic reactors). Besides these resources, we also have access to shared departmental and College facilities with additional advanced analytical, imaging, and spectroscopic tools.

Do you have a favorite piece of kit or equipment?

Our work strongly relies on being able to characterize and test our materials using a wide range of analytical, spectroscopic, and imaging techniques. I could not say that I have a favorite piece of kit. But I (and I guess my team) would love to have as many porosity analyzers as we have group members. As the core of our research is porous materials, assessing their porosity is a necessary step.

What do you think has been your most influential work to date?

I will let my community judge what has been my most influential contribution. But from a personal perspective, my most important work was my first research project as a Masters student. It led to my first peer-reviewed publication and represents my first ‘entry point’ into the world of academic research. This paper summarizes six months of lab work conducted in collaboration with the US Army Research Office. I was very proud and still am today of that work.

What is the key to running a successful group?

People and the synergy between them. One needs to ensure that every team member works well within the group and that the group works well for each member. I make a point of understanding every team member’s expectations, skills, and ambitions and considering possible synergies between team members at the time of recruitment. Overall, I am extremely fortunate to work with self-driven and collaborative individuals.  

How do you plan to develop your group in the future?

In the near future, the goal is to consolidate the knowledge and discoveries of the past few years, while still leaving place for serendipitous projects that might arise. In short, more of the same but ‘better, faster, stronger’!

Key publications

  1. C. Petit, C. Karwacki, G. Peterson, T. J. Bandosz. Interactions of Ammonia with the Surface of Microporous Carbon Impregnated with Transition Metal Chlorides. J. Phys. Chem. C 111 (2007) 12705-14.
  2. C. Petit, T. J.  Bandosz. MOF–Graphite Oxide Composites: Combining the Uniqueness of Graphene Layers and Metal–Organic Frameworks. Adv. Mater. 21 (2009) 4753-7.
  3. S. Marchesini, C. McGilvery, J. Bailey, C. Petit. Template-Free Synthesis of Highly Porous Boron Nitride: Insights into Pore Network Design and Impact on Gas Sorption. ACS Nano 11 (2017) 10003-10011.
  4. A. Crake, K. C. Christoforidis, A. Gregg, B. Moss, A. Kafizas, C. Petit. The Effect of Materials Architecture in TiO2/MOF Composites on CO2 Photoreduction and Charge Transfer. Small 15 (2019) 1805473.
  5. R. Shankar, M. Sachs, L. Francas, D. Lubert-Perquel, G. Kerherve, A. Regoutz, C. Petit. Porous boron nitride for combined CO2 capture and photoreduction. J. Mater. Chem. A (2019) Advance Article DOI: 10.1039/C9TA02793A.
  6. D. Danaci, M. Bui, N. MacDowell, C. Petit. Exploring the limits of adsorption-based CO2 capture using MOFs with PVSA – from molecular design to process economics. Mol. Sys. Des. Eng. (2019) Advance Article DOI: 10.1039/C9ME00102F.