Tolbert, Sarah H.


Tolbert Sarah


Sarah Tolbert is a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCLA. Research in her group focuses on self-organized nanoscale materials and includes both organic templated inorganic phases and colloidal materials. Current work in her group is aimed at understanding and controlling structure and periodicity in complex nanostructured composite materials, and in exploiting that periodicity for a range of structural, optical, and electronic materials applications. Projects in Prof. Tolbert’s group range from examination of nanoscale phase transitions in surfactant templated inorganic solids to the designed assembly of electro-active composite materials. Professor Tolbert’s honors include a National Science Foundation Early CAREER Development Award, the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award, a Beckman Young Investigator Award, and an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship.

Research Interests

Research in my group focuses around two intertwined goals. These are first, to create complex materials with nanoscale periodicity using self-organization, and second, to produce new physical properties because of that nanoscale architecture. The specific properties vary dramatically from project to project and include control of optical, magnetic, electrical, and even structural behavior. In all cases, however, the goal is to intrinsically tie the physical properties to the nanoscale structure, and in so doing, to understand the new dimension of control that size and spatial confinement can bring.

In my group, we use two main methods to produce nanoperiodic structures. Colloidal assembly is a simple method of producing periodic structures with virtually any length scale. Monodisperse colloids of almost any size can spontaneously order into close-packed arrays. Because of this size flexibility, colloidal assembly is the method of choice for producing larger-scale photonic materials with periodicity on the order of the wavelength of light. A structurally more versatile method for producing smaller-scale periodicity is inorganic/organic co-assembly. In this approach, amphiphilic organic surfactants or block co-polymers are co-assembled with inorganic oligomers to produce periodic inorganic/organic composites or nanoporous inorganics with periodicities similar to those found in lyotropic liquid crystalline phases. Various research projects in this area involve the synthesis of both oxide (titania, silica) and non-oxide (Ge, SnTePt, etc.) based materials.

Honors & Awards

  • 2023 ACS Henry H. Storch Award in Energy Chemistry
  • 2019 UCLA Academic Senate Community Service and Praxis Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Award
  • US DOE SCALAR Center Grant
  • 2017 ACS ENFL Division R.A. Gleen Award
  • 2017 NSF Special Creativity Award
  • 2017 Royal Society of Chemistry Fellow
  • 2021 UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry Hanson Dow Award for Excellence in Teaching

Representative Publications