School of Chemistry & Physics

Prof. Werner van Zyl

Professor


Werner van Zyl earned his BSc (Chemistry and Geology) and BScHons degrees (Chemistry) as well as a MSc degree (1992) in synthetic organometallic chemistry working on gold and platinum carbene complexes at the former Rand Afrikaans University (RAU) (now University of Johannesburg). Following a 2.5 year stint in the chemical industry (1992-1994) working at Implats as a Development Chemist, he pursued a PhD degree in (Inorganic) Chemistry at Texas A&M University, USA, under the supervision of John P. Fackler, Jr. (Distinguished Professor Emeritus, retired). The Fackler group worked within the auspices of the Laboratory for Molecular Structure and Bonding under the direction of the late F. Albert Cotton. Indeed, both F.A. Cotton and Nobel Prize laureate G. Wilkinson (1973) are part of his academic genealogy. 
 
Following his PhD, he was appointed a NWO Postdoctoral Associate (1999-2003) in the Inorganic Materials Science Group, University of Twente, Enschede, The Netherlands. After his postdoctoral stay, he was directly appointed at Senior Lecturer level in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) in September 2003. 
 
In May 2008, van Zyl relocated from UJ to the UKZN where he is currently Full Professor. He has graduated 11 PhD students and 14 MSc students to date. He currently supervises 8 PhD and 2 MSc students and mentors 2 postdocs.

Research interests

  • Over more than 20 years, his research interests cover a broad area within molecular and materials chemistry, with a strong focus on: i) sulfur-based ligands and ligand design, especially the dithiophosphonates and dithiocarbamates, ii) the chemistry of the Group 11 metals (Cu, Ag, Au), iii) formation of metal clusters and hydrido clusters of Cu, Ag and Au, iv) study of solid-state luminescence of Group 11 metal complexes and materials. 
 
  • Since 2017, there has also been a shift in research focus in the following three areas: 1. Biomass conversion and fabrication, especially of cellulose, new nanocellulose fabrication, lignin and sugarcane products, and use in SERS, luminescent paper, and catalysts. 2. Energy, focusing on transparant and flexible solar cells and hydrogen and CO2 generation, capture, storage and use. 3. Water, focusing on desalination, esp. capacitive deionisation and redox active electrodes, and reverse osmosis processes. 

Research profiles

Research overview

1. METAL COMPLEXES AND CLUSTERS):

  • Sulfur-based ligands and ligand design, especially the dithiophosphonates and dithiocarbamates;
  • The chemistry of the Group 11 metals (Cu, Ag, Au)
  • Formation of metal clusters and hydrido clusters of Ag and Cu
  • Study of solid-state luminescence of Group 11 metal complexes and materials, corrosion inhibition studies

2. BIOMASS conversion and fabrication, especially of cellulose, nanocellulose, lignin and sugarcane products, and use in SERS, luminescent paper, and catalysts.

3. FOOD PACKAGING: Use of bioplastics in active food packaging applications.4. WATER purification and desalination, esp. using capacitive deionisation (CDI) and redox active electrodes.

Current projects

Synthesis remains a major strength in chemistry and materials science that relies on the formation of new molecules and diverse forms of matter. We focus on the different synthesis protocols used to form new metal clusters such as templating ,alloying and size-focusing strategies. The group 11 metals (Cu, Ag, Au) are a specific focus as they currently predominate large metal cluster investigations and related Au and Ag bulk surface phenomena. This size domain is believed to become increasingly important for a variety of applications as it is positioned at the interface between the molecular and bulk phases, whilst remaining a classic nanomaterial and retaining unique nano-sized properties. Facile in situ formation of luminescent cellulose paper using Schweizer’s reagent as an inorganic solvent in water. Formation of dialysis-free Kombucha-based bacterial nanocellulose embedded in a polypyrrole / PVA composite for bulk conductivity measurements.

mEDIA

Collaborators

  • Prof. C.W. Liu, Dept. of Chemistry, National Dong Hwa University, Hualien, Taiwan.
  • Prof. N. Revaprasadu, University of Zululand
  • Prof. S.B. Jonnalagadda, School of Chemistry and Physics, UKZN.