Ursula Rothrock
College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Renewable energy research, education project receives NSF grant

Fri, 02/14/2014

LAWRENCE — Finding renewable energy sources to sustain the environment and the economy is one of the major challenges of the 21st century. Wai-Lun Chan, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, has received a prestigious award from the National Science Foundation to fund research that could help find such viable low-cost renewable energy, while teaching children and adults about the importance of renewable energy.

The NSF awarded the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award to Chan for his research proposal, “Understanding the Role of Quantum Coherence in Exciton Transport and Separation in Molecular Aggregates.” The award is the highest honor given by the NSF to young researchers.

Chan will receive $550,879 total over five years beginning in May 2014. His research explores fundamental materials issues related to organic semiconductors. It addresses the challenge of finding low-cost renewable energy by exploring the mechanisms that could improve the efficiency of next generation solar cells.

The educational aspects of Chan’s project are integrated with the research activities. It gives research opportunities to undergraduates as well as high school students and teachers. Chan and his students will visit local schools and introduce basic science related to renewable energy to K-12 students through lectures and experimental demonstrations. To increase public awareness of renewable energy, the project will offer public lectures through adult education programs at KU.

Chan joined the university in 2013. He had previously been a postdoctoral research associate at the Center for Nano and Molecular Science at the University of Texas at Austin and a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The NSF has existed since 1950 to promote discovery in the sciences and to fund those on the frontier of scientific innovation. The CAREER Award is the most prestigious award for junior faculty given out by the NSF. The NSF CAREER Award supports junior faculty who engage in outstanding research, education and integration of education and research in their academic roles.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy is in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, which encourages learning without boundaries in its more than 50 departments, programs and centers. Through innovative research and teaching, the College emphasizes interdisciplinary education, global awareness and experiential learning. The College is KU's broadest, most diverse academic unit.

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