Bezdek's research on ammonia's chemical bonds has applications for environment, industry

Máté Bezdek, a doctoral student in inorganic chemistry, is working on a dissertation that has implications for the development of environmentally friendly fuels using ammonia.

Curiosity about the natural world and practical concerns guided Máté Bezdek’s research into the chemical bonds of nitrogen and hydrogen that make up ammonia.

Earlier this year, Bezdek was named one of the four winners of the Porter Ogden Jacobus Fellowship, Princeton University’s top honor for graduate students. The fellowships support their final year of study at Princeton and are awarded to one Ph.D. student in each of the four divisions (humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and engineering) whose work has exhibited the highest scholarly excellence. The Jacobus Fellows were honored at Alumni Day ceremonies in February.

Bezdek, a doctoral student in inorganic chemistry who came to Princeton in 2014, earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Calgary. His dissertation, “Interconversion of Ammonia with Its Elements by Molybdenum Complexes: Fundamental Investigations,” has implications for the development of environmentally friendly fuels using ammonia.

Bezdek’s research explores the fundamental thermochemistry associated with the making and breaking of bonds between nitrogen and hydrogen atoms, especially where the nitrogen atom is bound to a transition metal catalyst. A principal component in most modern fertilizers, ammonia (NH3) is hydrogen-rich and has many attractive properties as a transportable and carbon-neutral fuel.

“Developing more efficient and less expensive industrial catalysts, clean fuels or new pharmaceuticals positively impacts the human condition on a daily basis — often in ways that are not immediately apparent,” Bezdek said. “I hope to build on the expertise I have acquired and contribute to progress in these areas after graduate school.”

Bezdek said he plans to conduct postdoctoral research before pursuing an academic position. His areas of interest range from solving problems in energy science to developing functional materials.

Bezdek received a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Predoctoral Fellowship. He also has received Princeton’s Third Year Seminar Hubbell ’47 Prize, the Canadian Society of Chemical Industry Award and the German Academic Exchange Service Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship.

Paul Chirik, the Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Chemistry, said Bezdek’s work has the potential to be groundbreaking. “It already has changed the way people think about chemical bonds, and I think that’s a really impressive accomplishment because the modern concept of the chemical bond has been around for over 120 years,” Chirik said. “That fundamental discovery will translate into all kinds of applications that I don’t think even we can envision right now.”