CAREER grant for solar power researcher

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Research developments

Let the sun shine in

by Joe DiGiovanni

Next-generation solar technology is on the horizon and Dr. Jier Huang is among those at its forefront.

The National Science Foundation has taken notice of research done by Dr. Jier Huang, an assistant professor of chemistry, and awarded her the foundation’s most prestigious award in support of junior faculty.

Huang received a $555,636 CAREER grant to examine the use of novel materials called metal-organic frameworks as a catalyst for the conversion of solar energy. “Our goal is to develop new, efficient materials that can be used in solar power,” she explains.

Current solar technology converts sunlight into electricity. But Huang is evaluating the process of converting sunlight into hydrogen. She wants to use the hydrogen to replace the fossil fuels typically used to power vehicles.

The catalyst Huang is using for the process is a metal-organic framework material with a technical name, photoactive zeolitic imidazolate frameworks. These materials typically contain iron, cobalt, copper or zinc. Huang’s research is focused on understanding the properties of the materials and how they could function in photocatalytic reactions that would lead to solar energy conversion.

Converting solar energy into a liquid fuel will take a multistep process. Huang’s work is considered one of the early steps in the research arc that will ultimately lead to engineers working to build a device that can convert the energy into fuel.

Huang, who received a Way Klingler Young Scholar Award earlier this year, is principal investigator. She is aided by four graduate students, an undergraduate student and a visiting professor. Her team will conduct its research at Marquette and also travel to the Argonne National Laboratory to use its synchrotron radiation source in measuring samples.

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