Stephen Nonnenmann of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department has received a grant from the prestigious NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program. Nonnenmann’s CAREER research will focus on energy conversion and storage applications.
As Nonnenmann explains, many energy conversion and storage applications require chemical reactions along some critical surface or interface to effectively operate.
Replacing scarce, expensive, noble-metal materials with abundant, cheap, efficient, complex, metal-oxide alternatives remains a primary challenge facing energy conversion, Nonnenmann observes. Missing oxygen atoms in the structure of these alternative oxide materials dictate their functional properties.
“This research uses novel microscopy methods and classic semiconductor analysis to visualize and quantify the location and amount of missing oxygen atoms across the critical interface under the operating conditions of actual energy conversion systems, in real time,” says Nonnenmann in his abstract. “Understanding the fundamental mechanisms of how missing atoms affect energy conversion at the interface is vital to rapidly advancing the development of devices such as fuel cells and electrolyzers.”
Nonnenmann also says that his work trains undergraduate and graduate students across the disciplines of materials science, surface science, and electrochemistry for placement in the energy conversion/storage, electronics, and nanotechnology sectors.
This project also includes a fully integrated educational component in which an undergraduate student team develops microscopy modules that are demonstrated in both senior capstone and graduate level courses using a portable atomic force microscope. This "flipped" instruction model also allows the undergraduate team to extend their module demonstrations to summer high school programs, and on social media, to inspire underrepresented groups to pursue science and engineering as exciting and worthwhile academic and career pathways. (April 2019)