Self-Assembly of Tripeptides to Design a Novel Proton Transfer Membrane for Fuel Cell Applications


Shejla Pollozi



Project Title:

Self-Assembly of Tripeptides to Design a Novel Proton Transfer Membrane for Fuel Cell Applications



I received my bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College and joined the Chemistry Ph.D. Program at the Graduate Center in 2017. I am entering my third year of graduate study, mentored by Dr. Donna McGregor. As a CREST fellow, my research lies at the intersection of supramolecular chemistry, nanomaterials, and chemical education. I serve as the membership coordinator of 500 Women Scientists NYC Pod and have previously interned at the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund (CSLDF). I currently intern at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in scientific research.


My research lies at the interface of soft materials, bio-nanotechnology, and supramolecular chemistry. I am focused on the synthesis and characterization of bio-derived short molecules (small peptides) that self-assemble into gels, forming a network of hydrogen bonds that can shuttle protons through. One of the amino acids of interest is histidine, which possesses an aromatic side chain (imizadole ring) capable of shuttling protons. These systems can potentially serve as novel proton exchange membranes for fuel cells, ultimately replacing the currently marketed membrane Nafion. Susceptible to contamination and toxic by-products at high temperatures, Nafion can deteriorate the fuel cell’s performance and longevity. In my PhD research, I will be working towards understanding the mechanism of proton shuffling via imaging, conduction, and absorption techniques.

I am grateful that I was chosen as a recipient of the 2019 Early Research Initiative (ERI) Summer Science Pre-Dissertation Fellowship. I am beginning my third year in the Chemistry PhD program at Lehman College under the mentorship of Dr. Donna McGregor. Our multidimensional lab focuses on inorganic synthetic chemistry, catalysis, radioactive waste remediation, and biologically-driven fuel cell components.

I enjoy the multifaceted nature of my trajectory in the PhD program. My thesis is centered around developing novel, peptide-based membranes for fuel cells and a chemical education project where I explore iClicker usage in a modified form of peer instruction in General Chemistry while developing a taxonomy and teaching methodology that facilitates learning for Lehman College undergraduates.

This summer, I worked on progressing toward PhD candidacy, submitting my first chemical education book chapter for publishing, and performing advanced electrochemical experiments to characterize self-assembled tripeptides.

  1. I wrote a research proposal as my second-level exam, which I will defend on September 3, 2019.
  2. As a first author, I submitted, alongside my mentor and other collaborators, an American Chemical Society (ACS) book chapter for publication titled: “Using Clicker-based Group Work facilitated by a Modified Peer Instruction Process in a Highly Successful Flipped General Chemistry Classroom.”
  3. Experimentally, the summer was focused on establishing collaborations. I initially spent the summer with Dr. Rein Ulijn’s group at the Advanced Science Research Center, characterizing self-assembled gels via IR. Soon, I will perform some rheology experiments in the same lab. Additionally, I am working with a leading expert in the field of bio-electronics and bio-sensors at Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel to perfect the experimental setup of my preliminary Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy (EIS) experiments and analyze some of the preliminary data on previously self-assembled gels. Recently, I established a collaboration with researchers at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering to further optimize our experimental conditions by using thin-nanofabricated films, which will serve as a casting medium for my samples.

Since an extremely crucial piece of this project is understanding if and how protons are conducted through the gels, performing and optimizing EIS experiments has been the main focus of the summer. This is a technique new to our lab that requires an advanced knowledge of physics and electrochemistry to measure and fit raw data. A portion of the fellowship’s award was used to finance a 2-day EIS course during fall 2019, organized by Gamry Instruments, one the leading companies in EIS manufacturing.

I would like to thank the Early Research Initiative for giving me the ability to take my dissertation work a step further by assisting me in taking new courses that will allow me to mechanistically understand my project experiments better. My newly forged collaborations will result in data collection and analysis necessary for me to enter and continue through my third year in the program while publishing such challenging yet exciting work.