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Research Focus Areas

At Helen, we conduct fundamental research and bring innovative scientific discoveries to real-world applications. Our R&D team is interested in developing materials with high adsorption capacity for water vapor or harmful gases, enhanced photophysical properties for biological imaging and sensing, high activity for the catalytic conversion of carbon dioxide into value-added products, and high performance for the preservation of agricultural products. Our collaborators are scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (Switzerland), University of Toronto and Queen's University (Canada), Oregon State University (USA), and CNRS Orleans (France).


Purple Smoke

Gas Capture and Separation

Image by National Cancer Institute

Bioimaging and Sensing

Farmers Market

Carbon Dioxide 


Agricultural Product Preservation

Gas Capture and Separation

Bioimaging and Sensing

Anchor 1

Water-vapor absorbents with high capacity are being developed and evaluated for the protection of agricultural products, electrical instruments, and medicines. We also design new materials that effectively capture toxic gases such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, or carbon monoxide, which can cause an immediate danger to life even at ppm concentrations. These materials are of great importance for the protection of the environment, workplace safety, and public health.


Our most important achievement in the development of water-vapor absorbents is the discovery of natural porous polymers, which strongly absorb aqueous liquid, preventing the presence of any liquid from the beginning to the end of the moisture absorption process. This is distinctly different from most other commercial desiccants, ensuring that our products are safe for use in any transportation condition. 


We have also succeeded in developing desiccants that can be recycled multiple times at low temperatures (60-70 Celcius), which are used for protecting small items such as optical lenses or documents from dampness and mold.  

Recently, we presented a new strategy to develop metal-organic frameworks for the efficient capture of ammonia. This work was published in the journal Chemical Communications.    

We develop NIR-emitting materials for biological imaging and sensing applications. Using NIR light provides the benefits of high penetration depth and limited photodamage, as well as efficient discrimination from the autofluorescence originating from biomolecules. NIR sensors can give a fast response and high sensitivity, reaching the limit of a single molecule. They can be applied for the detection of a variety of targets, including cations, anions, gaseous molecules, and macromolecules.


Recent achievements include the development of NIR-emitting metal-organic frameworks with enhanced photophysical properties, which was published in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A. The design strategy presented in this work can be generalized to prepare a large number of highly NIR luminescent porous materials, which are potential scaffolds for biological applications. In addition, they can be utilized in other areas such as telecommunication, solar conversion, night vision, barcoding, and security. 


The advantages of our metal-organic frameworks also include their high porosity and structural tunability. They can be further modified to induce upconversion of luminescence, and to encapsulate drug molecules for drug delivery. This work is the first step for us to establish a new generation of luminescent materials. 

Carbon Dioxide Conversion

Anchor 2

Agricultural Product Preservation

The greenhouse effect is one of the most daunting challenges facing humanity. Anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions contribute to global warming, undesirable climate change, and the extinction of species. We develop catalysts for the electrochemical and thermochemical conversion of CO2 into fuels and value-added products, which could help to close the carbon cycle and reduce petrochemical consumption.

In a work published in the journal Angewandte Chemie, we contributed to a collaborative study that develops a methanation process from CO2. We also reviewed the potential of single-metal-atom catalysts and the role of gas diffusion electrodes for the electrochemical reduction of CO2 in papers published in the journals ACS Catalysis and Chemical Society Reviews. Recently, our research to extend the operating stability of electrocatalysts was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Preservation of agricultural products helps to effectively store the products with controlled quality, and increase their shelf life by preventing the growth of microorganisms. We design materials that allow us to regulate the environment of the storage, such as introducing or limiting moisture content, and triggering or suppressing the release of ripening agents. We also develop edible and biodegradable materials for food packaging.


We have succeeded in developing a new technology to protect agricultural products, which allows for the long-term preservation of these products at low cost, while concurrently inhibiting the growth of termites and moths without the need of using hazardous chemicals. For more information about our technology, please see here.            

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