Various inorganic nitrogen-containing materials have been exploited for their different properties. Several nitride materials are commercially attractive due to their mechanical properties making them suitable for ceramic industries and wide bandgaps fitting for use as semiconductor and insulator materials, as well as optoelectronics. Nitride materials can exhibit versatility in applications such as the use of gallium nitride to make blue LEDs, nitrides of titanium and silicon being utilized as medical implants for their chemical inertness and hardness, and the heavy use of boron nitride as a solid lubricant in the cosmetic industry. Amines have been used as nitrogen-containing organic ligands in organometallic complexes that exhibit phenomenal photophysical properties. These complexes have been heavily studied for potential applications in optoelectronics and chemical sensing. This dissertation will focus on two nitrogen-containing materials that have yet to be explored for the potential applications to be discussed. The first is hexagonal-boron nitride (h-BN), which was previously mentioned to have a substantial use in the cosmetic industry, giving products such as lipstick, foundation, and blush their slick feeling. Computational models have shown the possibility of altered electronic properties of defect sites in the h-BN sheets. These defect sites will be explored experimentally to determine any catalytic activity. Specifically, the hydrogenation reaction using defect-laden hexagonal-boron nitride will be investigated. Successful catalysis would add to the short list of non-metal catalyst, and provide an alternative catalyst that costs significantly less than the traditional metal catalysts commonly used in commercial industries. The second of the two nitrogen-containing materials is a class of metal complexes based on organometallic clusters of copper(I) iodide. Copper(I) iodide clusters formed with amine ligands have been studied for around four decades and the photophysics behind their photoluminescent properties are well understood. Much of the work has been done for use as a potential emissive material in the optoelectronics field. They have also been studied for applications in the sensing of environmental compounds. Here, research will display its use as a novel sensor for narcotic substances. This forensic application will be further explored to develop and eventually commercialize a complete field drug testing system for law enforcement and crime lab use, with the goal to equip law enforcement personnel with a presumptive drug testing method that is accurate, easy-to-use, safe, adaptable, and affordable. This system will consist of a narcotic drug-indicating test strip, a handheld fluorescence spectrometer manufactured in-house using relatively inexpensive parts, and a mobile app that will leverage photoemission data of the tested drug samples collected by multiple crime labs to provide the ability for sample-to-reference data matching. Law enforcement users would have the ability to rapidly identify an unknown substance by applying it to a test strip, testing it using the spectrometer, and capturing an image of the resulting photoemission and analyzing the spectral profile in search of a match with the support of a cloud database.


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Graduation Date





Zhai, Lei


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Sciences



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Length of Campus-only Access

1 year

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Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)