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Bright Minds

USC College and Viterbi School faculty team up to establish an Energy Frontier Research Center with a $12.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Bright Minds

The U.S. Department of Energy has selected the University of Southern California as the site of an Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC), and plans a five-year grant totaling $12.5 million.

Researchers of the EFRC will explore new phenomena possible in organic materials, thin-layer semiconductor nanostructures, and hybrid structures utilizing both types of materials to improve the efficiency of solar cells and light sources.

P. Daniel Dapkus, an established pioneer in novel designs for light-emitting devices, of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, will direct the EFRC for Emerging Materials for Solar Energy Conversion and Solid State Lighting. Mark Thompson, professor of chemistry, will serve as the associate director of the newly created Center for Energy Nanoscience and Technology.

“USC is an excellent choice for such a center and Viterbi and College faculty will make an extraordinary collaborative team on this important energy initiative,” said College Dean Howard Gillman. “Mark Thompson’s leadership within the College was central to our joint success in winning this grant to establish an Energy Frontier Research Center at USC.”

Mark Thompson, professor of chemistry, will serve as the associate director of the newly created Center for Energy Nanoscience and Technology. Photo credit Philip Channing.

Both Thompson and Dapkus have appointments in the Viterbi School’s Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. “Mark was instrumental in attaining this award,” said Dapkus, noting the range of expertise the project will require.

“I am very excited about the team we have put together in this EFRC. It represents some of the strongest researchers in alternate energies in both the College and Viterbi,” Thompson said.

To accomplish this, the EFRC program brings together materials scientists, chemists, electrical engineers and physicists to design and synthesize new materials and to design new device structures in configurations that will dramatically reduce the cost of high efficiency solar cells and LEDs.

“Energy generation from advanced solar cells and energy savings from solid state light sources (LEDs) are both being developed in our EFRC,” Thompson said. “They will have a tremendous impact on our energy balance in the U.S., helping to shift us away from our reliance on fossil fuels.”

Other USC researchers in the center’s team include: Richard Brutchey, Barry Thompson and Steve Bradforth of the College Department of Chemistry; John O’Brien of the Ming Hsieh Department; Steve Cronin and Chongwu Zhou, with joint appointments in chemistry and in the Ming Hsieh Department; Jia Grace Lu, with joint appointments in the College Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Ming Hsieh Department; and Priya Vashishta, Rajiv Kalia and Aiichiro Nakano, with appointments in astronomy and physics and in the Viterbi School Department of Computer Science.

Researchers from the University of Illinois, the University of Virginia and the University of Michigan will also join the team.

The Emerging Materials EFRC is one of 46 nationwide selected from a pool of some 260 applications, based on a rigorous merit review process utilizing outside panels composed of scientific experts. It is one of 16 that will be funded by President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The EFRC represents a projected total national investment of $777 million.

“As global energy demand grows over this century, there is an urgent need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and imported oil and curtail greenhouse gas emissions,” said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.  

“Meeting this challenge will require significant scientific advances. These centers will mobilize the enormous talents and skills of our nation’s scientific workforce in pursuit of the breakthroughs that are essential to make alternative and renewable energy truly viable as large-scale replacements for fossil fuels.”



Read more articles from USC College Magazine's Spring/Summer 2009 issue.