Picture of Tanja Cuk
Associate Professor • Professor Adjunct, (NREL) • Institute Fellow, RASEI
Chemistry • National Research Energy Laboratory (NREL) • Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI)

Curriculum Vitae (CV)

Office: Cristol 358
Lab: RASEI 385A
Lab Phone: 303-492-4813
Fax (departmental, please specify recipient): 303-492-5894


B.S.E.: Electrical Engineering, Engineering Physics; Princeton University, 2000
Ph.D.: Applied Physics; Stanford University, 2007
Postdoctoral Fellow: Miller Postdoctoral Fellow; University of California at Berkeley, 2007-2010

Areas of Expertise

Physical Chemistry, Heterogeneous Catalysis/Reaction Dynamics, Material Surfaces, and Renewable Energy

Awards and Honors

  • 2018 Council Member, Department of Energy Chemical Sciences, Geosciences, & Biosciences Division 
  • 2017 Scientific Advisory Board, ARC CBBC: National Research Center of the Netherlands
  • 2012 Air Force Young Investigator Program
  • 2012 Bakar Fellow Program at University of California, Berkeley
  • 2007 Miller Postdoctoral Fellowship
  • 2000 National Science Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship

When catalysis configures reactants into higher energy products, energy from alternative forms such as electricity and light is stored into fuels, be they H2, alcohols, or higher energy hydrocarbons.  Such energy-storing reactions generally occur at the heterogeneous solid-liquid interface, where they can be initiated by charge from the solid side.  While catalysis proceeds in a sequence of steps from this initial one, it has been traditionally investigated in a fashion where only one rate, the speed at which products evolve, is monitored.  Yet, in order to truly tailor the efficiency of fuel production, an understanding of the full, time-resolved sequence is required: from the picosecond time scales of charge trapping to the interface that creates critical catalytic intermediates, through the microsecond time scales of bond-formation, and finally to the millisecond time scales of product evolution.  My lab leads such an effort by interrogating the solid-liquid interface with multi-color spectroscopies (optical, mid-infrared, resonance Raman, & X-ray) after charge separated from an ultrafast light pulse initiates the catalytic reaction, such that the steps can be separated in time from there.  The reaction intermediates are inherently difficult to detect since they sit at an interface where the bulk environment abruptly changes (solid to liquid); their detection is made possible by probing both their electronic and vibrational states and by extensive collaborations with theorists that predict and corroborate spectral signatures.  While the focus thus far has been on the highly selective water oxidation reaction on a model surface, the methodologies are widely applicable and will be applied to carbon-based reactions, diverse device structures, and non-aqueous electrolytes.