Tulane University School of Science and Engineering
Summer MAterials Research @ Tulane (SMART)
Research Experience for Undergraduates
Below we describe sample projects offered by faculty advisors under Materials for Energy. These representative projects highlight the general interests of the participating faculty, though the specifics may be subject to change.
Materials for Energy
Mechanistic Aspects of Solar Fuel (H2) Generation
Russ Schmehl, Chemistry
The use of sunlight to drive chemical reactions that result in the production of storable fuels is regarded as one of the holy grails of chemistry. The general approach involves capturing the photons with energy high enough to be productive and use the energy to drive electron transfer reactions that generate strong oxidizing and reducing agents that, with water as the target, will result in formation of oxygen and hydrogen. There are many challenges to accomplishing this overall chemistry and the overall water splitting is addressed by studying separate systems to understand water oxidation and reduction. Our efforts are focused on developing systems for photochemical reduction/oxidation of water and examining them using pulsed laser time resolved spectroscopy in the uv-vis and infrared. The laser spectroscopic methods will allow us to identify highly reactive intermediate species formed with visible light excitation and dissect the details of competitive kinetic processes that exist.
Ultra-high Power Density Photovoltaics from 2-D Transition Metal Chalcogenides
Matthew Escarra, Physics and Engineering Physics
The vast potential for solar energy to be useful in a variety of energy generation applications has spurred research on a wide range of photovoltaic materials. Devices formed from ultrathin materials offer the potential for reduced cost, lower weight, flexible form factors, and integration into multiple formats, all with the potential to maintain reasonably high performance. Matthew Escarra’s group is developing novel PV devices formed from 2-dimensional transition metal chalcogenide materials, an early stage material set that has the potential to push the limits of ultrathin photovoltaics. The unique properties of 2-D TMCs make them especially tantalizing for use in optoelectronic applications. The Escarra group is exploring methods to produce large area 2-dimensional transition metal chalcogenides and characterizing them with technique, including electroluminescence, photoluminescence, photocurrent, photovoltage, x-ray diffraction, elemental analysis. Participants will have the opportunity to develop transition metal chalcogenide photovoltaics using chemical and physics vapor deposition; characterizing these materials; fabricating devices; and measuring the optical and electrical characteristics of these TMC devices.
Designing Alloy Catalysts for Alkane Transformations
Matt Montemore, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
Developing improved catalysts could save energy in large-scale industrial processes and make clean energy technologies, such as fuel cells or biofuels, viable. Previous research has shown that effective catalysts bind to key reaction intermediates with the proper strength. However, using this principle to discover new catalysts is difficult, partly because of the huge number of materials that must be screened. The Montemore group has developed models that allow efficient screening of metal alloys for their catalytic properties. These models allow the binding strength of key intermediates to be estimated by calculating the electronic structure of a surface, which is several orders of magnitude faster than brute force computation of binding strengths. We will focus on alkane transformations including methane reforming and propane dehydrogenation, but we will also screen for other reactions as this requires no additional computational time. We will screen catalytic surfaces with small ensembles (1 to 5 atoms) of a reactive metal in a more inert metal, as this architecture allows different intermediates to reside in different local environments. After this efficient screening of a large number of materials, more careful, accurate calculations can be performed for promising candidates.
2D Materials for Energy Storage and Conversion
Michael Naguib, Physics and Engineering Physics
The need for reliable energy conversion and storage systems is continuously growing, especially with recent efforts to further develop renewable energy and the explosive growth of portable device technologies. Thus, the development of novel materials for energy conversion and storage is of critical importance and the research in our group has the general theme of Novel Energy Materials. Our research involves developing new 2D materials for applications in the next generation of batteries beyond Li-ion, supercapacitors and electrocatalysis. In addition to discovering and creating new materials, another important thrust is developing inexpensive materials for the commercially available electrochemical energy storage systems (e.g. Li-ion batteries and supercapacitors), which contribute to environmentally friendly and sustainable technologies.
Quantum materials for building a quantum computer
Jiang Wei, Physics and Engineering Physics
Quantum computing enables next-generation energy technologies by providing much faster solutions with the quantum bit. A topological superconductor is a type of quantum material exhibiting a helical superconducting surface state that is topologically protected. This type of electronic quantum state is attracting a significant amount of attention due to its potential of hosting Majorana fermions, a fermion that is its own antiparticle. Following non-Abelian statistics, Majorana fermions in a topological superconductor can be used for building fault-tolerant quantum computers. However, identifying a quantum material that exhibits topological superconductivity has been a challenge. We use nanodevice based on various candidate materials to investigate their electron transport behavior, therefore, to directly hunt for the signature of Majorana fermions. Participants will be involved in quantum materials synthesis, nanofabrication of devices, quantum transport measurement, and microspectroscopy measurement.
Complex Energy Materials Characterization by Time-resolved Spectroscopy
Diyar Talbayev, Physics and Engineering Physics
Our exploration focuses on materials that will enable new-generation technologies in energy harvesting and conversion and electronics. We are interested in optical and electronic properties of complex materials, which include materials with strong electronic correlations (e.g., magnetic and superconducting transition metal oxides), multiferroic materials that combine ferroelectricity with magnetism, and artificial terahertz plasmonic structures. We use time-resolved optical and terahertz spectroscopy to probe low-energy magnetic, lattice, and electronic excitations that reveal the microscopic physics governing a material. Time-resolved spectroscopy employs femtosecond light pulses to perturb and manipulate the equilibrium state of solids and adds another dimension, the time domain, to expose the relationships between the fundamental interactions in a material.
Other participating faculty
Julie N. L. Albert, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering