Macdonald Research Group

gas tank


We are a nanoparticle synthesis group in the Department of Chemistry at Vanderbilt University. Myself and my students contribute fundamental knowledge to problems in green energy and catalysis, and we are facinated by the potential of nanotechnology.

Our research focuses on preparing new nanoparticles for applications in catalysis, photocatalysis and non-linear optics. We do this by paying close attention to the role of the surface chemsitry and ligands on nanocrystals, examining the nuances of the synthetic mechanism of how nanocrystals form in soltuion, and finding clever ways to make exciting crystalline phases and materials that don't exist in the bulk or simply have never been formed before.

Every day, we synthesize nanocrsytals in our chemistry laboratory using variatons on traditional chemistry techniques one might have first learned in an organic chemsitry laboratory course. The similarities end there.

My students take the tiny crystals to the electron microscope, where they can see what they made. They can achieve magnifications so high, they often can image lines from the lattice of the atomic crystal structures. Elemental mapping techniques show them on the nanoscale where all the different elements are in their crystals. The goal is to understand how the conditons of the syntheses are changing the compoisiton, shape, atomic structre and size of the nanocrystals. We explore how that structure influences and improves the ability of these nanocrystals to absorb and fluoresce light and to perform catalytic reactions.

Our overarching goal is to be innovators in how to make cool small stuff.

Recent Happy Dances and Fist Pumps

February 2024: It took all of us working together, 165 references and 13 journal pages, but a Perspecitve is coming out in ACS Nanoscience AU from our group on phase control. It has been designated as an "Editor's Choice" paper for the ACS.

January 2024: The acolades keep comping! Andrey's paper is now a "HOT" paper with Nanoscale Horizons for last year.

November 2023: Andrey's paper won VINSE's best collaborative paper with Guanyu from the Caldwell group.

August 2023: Jeremy's paper got into JACS! A group first! To boot, it has a very memorable Lord-of-the-Rings TOC image that I can't believe we got published.

Map to the Iron Sulfides

August 2023: Andrey, in colloaboration with Guanyu from the Caldwell group, has his paper accepted in Nanoscale Horizons with almost no edits! One of the reveiwers said "It is a pleasure to review papers like this." Thank you kind reveiwer. It is a pleasure to receive reviews such as this!

August 2023: Deborah won Best use of Graphics and $500 to go to a conference for her poster at the Undergraduate Summer Reserach poster session! Where should she go?!?!?   

Emma Endres, Deborah Oke and Janet Macdonald

April 2023: Tony and Pete have defended their honors theses and both wonHighest Honors. This is an incredible achievement since usually only one or two (or sometimes zero) chemsitry grads get it each year.  

Tony Peng and Pete Edwards after defending their Honors theses with their mentors Emma Endres, Jeremy Espano and Janet Macdonald

The first weeks of 2023 were big sucesses. Nathan had his paper accepted to Nanophotonics. Danielle Penk had a paper accepted in Inorganic Chemsitry, and we had our first collarborative project with the Buchanan group accepted.

December 2022: In one crazy week, the Macdonald Group made four new Drs! Congrats to Dr. Christopher Sharp, Dr. Nathan Spear,  Dr. Danielle Penk and Dr. Madeleine Fort! Proud Boss. 

Christopher Sharp, Nathan Spear, Danielle Penk and Madeleine Fort each after defending their PhDs with Janet Macdonald

February 2022, Tony Peng beat out stiff competion to become one of Vanderbilt's three 2022 undergraduate Beckman Schollars! This amazing program gives him funding to do 5 semesters of reserach. He followes in the footsteps group alum Laura Mast (PhD Georgia Tech) and Nikki Jenkinson (Johns' Hopkins, MD/PhD) No pressure, Tony.

November 2022: Nathan Spear wins the Nanoday crowd choice poster award for the THIRD TIME. The reserach is awesome, but is he giving out candy too?

September 2022, After staring at NMRs for too many months, Lexie Koziel had her paper accepted into Inorganic Chemsitry. It's always nice when we prove we can do some molecular chemistry too.

January 2022, Eric Ho and Tony Peng, our two unstoppable undergrads have published in Nanoscale as the ONLY AUTHORS (well, besides Janet). Hot dang. Playing with the big kids.  

May 2021, We are sad to see him go, but Eric Ho is going to do great things at Emory for his PhD.

September, 2020 Congrats to Chris who had his paper published in Nanoletters!

Summer, 2020 Wecome to the group, Jeremy (IMS) and Danielle (Chemistry)! It is a tough time to start in a new lab, but we'll struggle through it. You are allready bringing new energy to the lab with your enthusiasm and knowlegde.

April, 2020 Janet, John McLean and Andrzej Balinski used ethanol from the store room to make a WHOLE LOTTA hand sanitizer for the Vanderbilt communiy and got interveiwed for it. It was just a little way chemists could help fighting the corona virus.

April, 2020 An important phone call from the department chair: Janet got Tenure!  

April, 2020 It started with an light bulb moment while listening to the Nashville Symphony, and now years later it is a paper on using plasmonic particles to cause the second harmonic generation of light. IMS graduate student Nathan Spear was the one to finally get it to work and mastering both the chemistry in the Macdonald Group and the non-linear optics in the Haglund Group

March, 2020 It was a mixed bag of emotions when both Evan and Jordan sucessfully defended their PhD theses in the space of one week. Sadness to see them end their time in the Macdonald Lab, excitment to see them show of their great work, but mostly PRIDE.

February, 2020 Our coauthored paper with the Kidambi Group has been accepted!

January, 2020 Welcome to our newest group member, Lexie Koziel!

November, 2019, Janet's editorial in Chemistry of Materials "Negotiating the Academic Letter of Offer" gets tweeted 75 times and racks up 2800 reads in just a few weeks! Solid, straight- forward advice (we hope) for those on the academic job market.

June 20, 2019 Emil and Evan have their paper published in Chemsitry of Materials!

May 10, 2019 Andrew, Nikki and Nathan and in collaboartion with the Sargent group at the University of Toronto had their paper published in Nanoscale!

Feb 27, 2019 Janet sat on Kemar Reid's thesis defense while in labour, then walked/waddled herself to Vanderbilt OB triage. Welcome to the world, baby Everett!

Feb 19, 2019 Evan rocked is Independant Reserach Propsal with an ambitious idea- the last hoop before writing his thesis.

Dec 5, 2019 Maddy passed her prelim exam for the Interdiciplinary Materials Science PhD program!

Dec 3, 2018 Jordan's Paper is a top 20 download this month in Chemistry of Materials!(And the figures are BEAU-tiful)

Nov 27, 2018 Nathan passed his prelim exam for the Interdiciplinary Materials Science PhD program!

Nov. 21, 2018 Emil and Andy's paper is accepted in Chemistry of Materials, building on work from Summer's MSc thesis!

Nov 3, 2018 Puxin wins 1st place for her poster in the Undergraduate Division at SERMACS in Augusta, Ga! "Wait, I was being judged?" she asked.

Oct 15, 2018 Cristopher passed his prelim exam for the Chemsitry Graduate program!

Sept 10, 2018 Andrew is our newest minted PhD! He showed us what is possible when nanocrystal chemists are not afraid of a little organic chemistry.