Norma and Jerol Sonosky Summer Environmental Studies and Alternative Energy Fellowship Program

This summer, the Wrigley Institute was pleased to announce a new fellowship opportunity for doctoral graduate students pursuing research in sustainability and alternative energy technologies: The Norma and Jerol Sonosky Summer Environmental Studies and Alternative Energy Fellowship Program.

The 8-week summer fellowship program was designed to support graduate research into alternative energy sources such as solar and microbial fuel cells. The fellowship was also open to students interested in exploring methods of implementing the ongoing research conducted by Wrigley Institute faculty into real-world settings. Established by Trojan Alum Jerol Sonosky, the program represents an exciting opportunity to support research he is passionate about; Jerol himself has two USC degrees in petroleum engineering [B.S., ‘48; M.S., ‘49] and is a current member of the Wrigley Institute Advisory Board.

The Wrigley Institute was pleased to award Summer 2013 fellowship support through this program for four USC Dornsife Ph.D. graduate students in the Department of Chemistry. Each student received an 8-week stipend so that they could focus on their summer research objectives. The Norma and Jerol Sonosky Fellows were:


Purnim Dhar, who is studying the effects of molecular structure and energy dynamics in organic solar cells. The orientation of molecules in the thin “active layers” of photovoltaic cells can influence their efficiency. Understanding such molecular dynamics, and how different preparations of active layer films could influence energy conversion, will help researchers build better solar devices.


Zhiyao Lu, who is developing efficient low-temperature methods for converting carbon dioxide to methanol to chemically manage carbon dioxide. Methanol can be used directly in fuel cells, combusted in engines or converted to other commodity chemicals, but converting carbon dioxide to methanol typically requires high temperatures and uses more energy. Low temperature conversions would be a tremendous advance toward carbon dioxide management.


Hayriye Merve Yurdacan, who is studying designs for water desalination reverse osmosis (RO) membranes to improve their water flux and give them anti-fouling properties. Current RO membranes are effective but tend to have low permeability, low durability and sensitivity to temperature; them also can succumb to fouling by bacteria or oxidation. This research will focus on the use of nano-objects embedded in membranes to increase the flow rates, decrease fouling and reduce the maintenance and energy requirements of desalination systems.


Nima Zargari, who is exploring new methods for recycling biomass waste such as yard debris and paper into alternative energy. Undesirable organic waste can be degraded into simpler organic molecules such as formic acid by using novel catalysts, thereby converting waste into a useful chemical commodity that would be a safe and easy-to-transport source of hydrogen for fuel cells. Direct formic acid fuel cells are an emerging energy technology because of their ease of refueling, efficiency and safety.

These four students will present their summer research, along with presentations by other summer Wrigley Fellows, at the Wrigley Institute Summer Research Symposium in September 2013. The Wrigley Institute is proud to partner with donors such as Jerol and Norma Sonosky to help support such opportunities for student innovation and development of new solutions addressing the world’s biggest environmental challenges.