Hydrogen-powered cars may be more efficient and practical in the future thanks in part to a grant recently awarded to Reuben Hudson, a postdoctoral fellow working at Colby with Associate Professor of Chemistry Jeffrey Katz.

The National Science Foundation grant—$378,000 over three to four years—was awarded through a program called Science, Education, and Engineering for Sustainability (SEES), aimed at encouraging and developing sustainability science through interdisciplinary collaboration.

Hudson, who came to Colby last year after earning his Ph.D. at McGill University, will work with Katz, who has been developing types of polymers, large chemical scaffolds made of smaller repeating units. Some of these materials may have potential applications for electrolyte membranes in hydrogen fuel cells.  The fuel cells have a variety of uses, one of which is in hydrogen-powered cars. “The idea is that these polymers are more robust than a lot of the polymers that are used for these electrolyte membranes,” Hudson said. “So you could potentially use them at higher temps, which would increase the efficiency of the fuel cell.”

Hudson will work with Katz and Sankaran Thayumanavan from UMass-Amherst, Eric Beckman from University of Pittsburgh, and John Warner of the Warner-Babcock Institute and a leader in the area of green chemistry. Hudson said he’ll be hiring a Colby student researcher as soon as possible. The education component of the grant will be carried out with Beyond Benign, an organization that does green chemistry outreach with K-12 students and the public. Hudson said he hopes to have Colby students join the outreach effort.

At McGill, while earning his Ph.D., he was a teaching assistant for organic chemistry classes with 750 students, he said. At Colby he will be able to pursue his research and will also co-teach organic chemistry with Katz and continue to teach a green chemistry Jan Plan that he first offered last year.

As an undergraduate at Vassar College, Hudson experienced the intimate setting of a small liberal arts college. “It was similar to here,” he said. “You just walk into the professor’s office.” Contrasting those experiences with the large research university, Hudson said, “I just thought the liberal arts experience was valuable.”