ISU Headlines

EPSCoR grants fund work on developing new energy sources

Posted November 16, 2007

“From cradle to grave, from the molecule all the way to the device,” scientists at Idaho’s three largest public universities are working with itsy-bitsy pieces of matter – one-billionth-of-a-meter particles – in attempt to develop new materials for use in energy applications or in the semiconductor industry.

At Idaho State University, chemistry professors René Rodriguez, Ph.D., and Joshua Pak, Ph.D., and physics professor Alan Hunt, Ph.D., have found organic, carbon-based materials that have good prospects for use as solar cells.

Rodriguez will be the grant’s principal investigator. He and his colleagues are testing the efficiency of these materials for storing energy.

Researchers at the University of Idaho and Boise State University are attempting to make a new magnetic material that can be used as a base for the organic material being developed at ISU. The combined base and organic material could then be used in a similar manner as are silicon wafer boards.

The advantage of organic materials are that they are lightweight, inexpensive and easy to fabricate relative to silicon-based devices, which are expensive and tough to manufacture. The problem with the organic materials is that their efficiency is low relative to silicon. Researchers are trying to find materials that are efficient enough to be a viable alternative to current materials.

In this project chemists are working with physicists. The ISU, BSU and UI researchers, who are working in tandem, have received a $440,000 Department of Energy Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) grant this year to continue their work. The institutions will receive a total of $1.3 million over the next three years. This funding is a continuation of a previous three-year $1.1 million grant the institutions received.

In all, there are nine researchers involved in the grant, four at the UI, three at ISU and two at BSU. The researchers at UI are physics professors You Qiang, Leah Bergman and Chris Berven and chemistry professor Pamela Shapiro. At BSU physics professors Alex Punnoose and Dmitri Tenne are involved.

 “The EPSCoR grant is being used by researchers at all three universities for nano-particle materials development,” said René Rodriguez, Ph.D., ISU professor of chemistry and the grant’s principal investigator. “Several are trying to develop new materials for a  ‘spintronic’ type of magnetic memory. Others are working to develop new materials for use in solar cells and for general use as a semiconductor.”

Overall, one of the main purposes of the grants is to enhance the research base in Idaho for materials development.

“It is our hope that we will perform research collaboration in such a way that in three years Idaho may develop a statewide center of excellence for materials development,” Rodriguez said.

During the last three years the researchers for the most part were building the capabilities to complete the research they will performing during the next three years.

“Each university has its own unique capability so we send each other materials for analysis or further processing,” Rodriguez said.

Contact: Dr. René Rodriguez, (208) 282-2613