Anastassia Alexandrova, an associate professor in UCLA’s department of chemistry and biochemistry and a member of UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute, has been awarded a 2016-2017 J. William Fulbright U.S. Scholar grant. The Fulbright Program aims to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and those of other countries, and is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government.

Alexandrova will use the grant to conduct research in the chemistry laboratory of the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Lyon, France. Her research project will focus on computational catalysis. She plans to study two types of promising catalytic systems, with the goal of understanding their practical potential and improving their properties through insights into their electronic structure. She will also lead seminars to university students in Lyon on subjects such as computational materials design, chemical bonding in materials, multi-scale modeling of complex systems and global optimization algorithms. Her seminars will introduce students to cutting-edge ideas concerning such topics as electronic structure, and molecular level and industrial catalysis. She also hopes to establish long-term scientific collaborations between UCLA and ENS.

Alexandrova’s laboratory at UCLA also works on the applied theory of chemical bonding, focusing on heterogeneous catalytic interfaces decorated with small clusters of transition metals. She and her research team design new catalysts of this kind, building up from detailed understanding of their electronic structure, to the shapes, stability and catalytic properties. 

Alexandrova and her colleagues are interested in both pure chemistry — how, for example, an enzyme that contains a metal atom catalyzes a chemical reaction at the atomic level — and applied chemistry.

“We are interested in the choices that nature makes for certain metals to play a catalytic role in different enzymes,” Alexandrova said.