2008 Scholar Project Proposals

Mark Pavlyukovskyy

This upcoming year I will be working with Dr. Paul Barbara and Johanna Schmidtke at the University of Texas at Austin researching the applications of solar cells, and improving on the current methods used in building them. A specific topic that I want to explore in more detail is the synthesis of the TiO2 molecules in order to improve the power efficiency value of solar cells. TiO2 is the material that conducts excited electrons from the dye used in the photo-voltaic cell to the charge collector where the electrons are gathered, and the voltage is generated. If the consistency of the TiO2 layer is more uniform,  and there is a way to synthesis the molecules on the nano-scale then the potential voltage gain might make these cells a viable and cheap alternative to the currently very expensive and complicated cells used for industrial purposes.

Brynn Umbach

I was a part of the collaborate team under Dr. Paul Barbara and Johanna Schmidtke.We discussed the energy crisis and the importance of alternate forms of energy, particularly solar energy. The dye-sensitized solar cell is a third generation solar cell that costs little to manufacture, but operates at a low efficiency. After working in the lab this week and creating my first solar cell, I started to formulate extensions for continued research and experimentation throughout the next involving this solar cell (referred to as a Gratzel cell). I plan to meld architecture and chemistry together by creating solar panels that mimic the appearance of a shingle inorder to maintain the aesthetics of the structure. By controlling the light reflected off of the solar panels, I could also create beautiful patterns and colors that could be seen on the roof's surface. A fellow teammate, Jiayi Kong, and I plan to research this topic and conduct experiments which will later be compiled for a report and presented at a science fair.

Jiayi Kong

Although it may seem that our everyday use of energy is not at all excessive, the world currently uses fossil fuels 100,000 times faster than nature can form them, and at these rates of consumption, the remaining untapped sources of fossil fuel can only supply energy for an estimated 170 years. In recent decades, as energy consumption has exponentially increased, the natural resources of coal, oil, and natural gas are being rapidly depleted. Indeed, an energy crisis in the 1970s that affected not only the United States, but numerous countries around the world, provided the backlash that highlighted the fact that energy supplies were not unlimited. Currently, huge efforts are made and enormous strides taken to prevent another global energy crisis from occurring through the development of alternative energy. One such alternative is the creation of solar power through dye-sensitized solar cells, a third-generation photovoltaic that employs nanotechnology, is considerably more efficient than traditional solar cells, and is potentially cheaper and easier to produce in bulk. A promising investigation is the development of photovoltaics to be both aesthetically pleasing and fully functional. For example, the solar cell could appear to be a shingle, or even use a certain amount of produced energy to reflect light in various ways. Furthermore, experimentation will be done to determine the efficacy of certain dyes in this type of solar cell, as well as applying nanotechnology to improve existing construction materials in homes. Thus, in conclusion, a new type of home can be realized, one with all the elements of an visually appealing house in combination with sustainable design. Finally, this project will be performed with Brynn Umbach as my partner.

Catherine Crawford

In reduced dimensions, materials display characteristics that can be quite different from their behavior in macroscopic dimensions. Understanding these characteristics has lead to fundamental discoveries for scientific research. An important and sought-after feature of nanoscale systems is their ability to self assemble, the spontaneous aggregation of nanoscale and molecular entities into a desired and organized structure. One such advanced material that exhibits this feature is Anodic Aluminum Oxide (AAO) . AAO is an aluminum template coated with an oxide layer. Pores which can be formed in this oxide layer can self assemble to allow for the use of AAO as a microfilter and a template for carbon nanotubes. My research focuses on using Anodic Aluminum Oxide (AAO) to construct high performing, non fouling membranes for water filtration. Inadequate access to clean water is a pervasive issue. It is possible to capture used water directly from non traditional sources and restore it to potable quality by eliminating the variety of contaminants found in wastewater. Technology has, thus far, been very successful in this decontamination process; however, futuristic models include the use of nanomembranes or microfilters to cleanse the water of all contaminants. While this idea is plausible, the construction of these membranes is complex. By growing this system in this research, we will be able to better characterize its topography and view how, by altering its formation, we can improve its value as a filtration unit. This project has the potential for use in developing countries as a cheap and effective way to address the need for clean water.

Jessica Durden

Throughout the week at Catalyst, our group discussed many ideas for projects involving anodic aluminum oxide (AAO), self-assembling monolayers, and chirality.  After much research and reading, Cati (Crawford)and I have decided to group together, since we will be at the lab together, and complete research relating to microfiltration using both AAO and diblock copolymers.  We hope to find that our research will lead to cheap filtration so that everyone can have fresh water, since the amounts of fresh water in the world are slowly fading.  Our research will be performed in a laboratory at the University of Chicago, where we will familiarize ourselves with the equipment, specifically the atomic force microscope, which will be crucial in analyzing our data.  With the help of Gaby Avila-Bront and Dr. Steven Sibener, Cati and I hope to make significant accomplishments in the field of microfiltration.

Paul Bissonnette

We (Paul, Jessica and Cati)  plan to synthesize and analyze the surface properties of different co-polymer diblocks as well as anodic aluminum oxide.  We plan to analyze these surfaces through atomic force microscopy, looking specifically at the self healing qualities of the surface as well as its possible application as a water purification mechanism.  In the initial phases of our project we will develop a protocol for constructing these surfaces and possibly a computer model for structural analysis.  The project will likely culminate in an insight into the properties of these surfaces and possibly a real world application for these properties.

Peter Nebres

Peter will be working on a magnetic refrigerator. The magnets will be coated with nanoparticles, which allow the magnet to enter superparamagnetic state. The magnet will be used to transfer energy in the refrigerator with nearly 100% efficiency. It will involve a change of energy between reservoirs that allows heat to flow in and out of the refrigerator.  This cycle is based on the Carnot cycle and will be in constant motion. Since the majority of the project is determining the practicality of this concept, Peter will work outside of the lab performing calculations and learning more on thermodynamics. He will also work in the lab to determine if his calculations are deemed true. This could have substantial effects including an alternative to refrigerants, a 100% efficiency machine, and the ability to work at temperatures below 1K.

Zoe Yan

A capacitor has the ability to store electrostatic energy.  Unfortunately, it is not commercially competitive with the common electrochemical battery because its charge storage capabilities are quite low in comparison.  Researchers have developed several high storage capacitors (ultracapacitors, electrolytic capacitors) with greater capacitance, but none of them are commercially viable as of yet.  My goal is to design a nanoparticle capacitor that has high capacitance per unit area.  It will consist of two metal electrodes with multiple layers of nanoparticles sprayed on, separated by polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) to prevent the breakdown of the capacitor.

Lee Wei Kao

Lee-Wei will be exploring nanoparticles as a means to fight cancer.  Research has shown that cancer cells more readily absorb folic acid than normal cells.  Using this knowledge, Fe/Au nanoparticles can be coated with folic acid to target cancerous cells.  If this targeting method is successful, the nanoparticles can then be used in many ways to aid in cancer treatment.  They can be used as MRI contrast agents to detect tumors.  By applying an external magnetic field, the nanoparticles can heat up the cancer cells.  Studies have shown that cancer cells are more susceptible to heat than normal cells, giving hyperthermic treatment a great potential.  Lee-Wei will be working with Dr. Andres at Purdue University throughout the year to test the practicality of using nanoparticles to treat cancer.  He will be doing experiments using microwave radiation to heat up nanoparticles in a specific area of the body.

Ian Strickman

For my project I will be looking at the disparity between the number of observed organic and inorganic molecules in the universe, and tackling the question of the reason for that disparity. I will do this using data from radio-telescopes which will be interpreted with the technique of rotational spectroscopy of molecules in the gas phase. Such data shows that there have been around 150 molecules identified in the universe, and of those, most are organic (or carbon containing) molecules. These are, for the most part, formed by various Carbon – Carbon bonds. On the other hand, inorganic elements, such as Oxygen and Nitrogen, have had no (or extremely few) molecules in which there are O-O bonds or N-N bonds. The stated goal of this project is to study why those bonds don’t form. An unstated goal is to look at the relative ease with which organic molecules (which are the basis for all life) are formed, and to see whether this ease could contribute to life on Earth or elsewhere. I will be working with Shirlee on this project.

Shirlee Wohl

While the field of chemistry has a multitude of noble applications on the earth, my project for the 2008 Catalyst Program concerns molecules farther away from home, namely the compounds in the interstellar medium. The development of the radio telescope and the science of radioastronomy has enabled people to collect data about the various molecules found in space based on their rotational transitions. In analyzing this data, it becomes evident that the majority of the compounds found in space are organic. For the project, Ian Strickman and I aim to discover the reason for the abundance of carbon and the apparent lack of inorganic compounds by using information regarding the energy involved in the reactions used to create the molecules. With the assistance of Professor Klemperer, we will also examine terrestrial molecules and investigate what types of linkages are found (organic or otherwise) and how they are created. While interstellar chemistry is an important and exciting fie ld for our own personal knowledge, we hope to extend our project by relating the abundance of organic molecules to the origins of life. Along the way, our project on interstellar chemistry will hopefully help us answer questions regarding the apparent lack of oxygen in space and other unexplained phenomena, as well as bring our chemistry learning to a whole new level - one very high up in the sky.