Frontiers in Energy Research: April 2012

April 2012

The Student Face of the EFRC: Interview with Undergraduate Researcher Gene Nolis

Jessica Morrison thumb

If you ask Gene Nolis why he became a scientist, he’ll tell you with complete sincerity that it’s because he was once intrigued with the stereotype of a scientist.
“As a kid, you start hearing of Einstein, you see pictures of this guy with unkempt hair and hear that he was a genius,” says Nolis. “I wanted to become that; I wanted to become what people thought was a crazy, mad scientist.”
I met Gene at the Energy Frontier Research Center Summit and Forum held last May in Washington, D.C., and I can assure you that he is far from mad. Gene is an undergraduate student at Binghamton University, a State University of New York. A senior chemistry major who participates in undergraduate research through the Northeastern Center for Chemical Energy Storage Energy Frontier Research Center, Gene took the time to chat with me about his passion for science, his work within the EFRC, and his future plans.

Next-Gen Tools for Smart, Designer Materials

Sanchita Biswas thumb

To meet the increasing demand for energy, the Energy Frontier Research Centers are developing powerful tools and techniques for synthesis of materials. Scientific tools are being investigated in all of the EFRCs to save time, labor, energy and other resources. A combination of computational, synthesis and characterization techniques are being developed to design and generate novel materials for sustainable and clean-energy applications including fuel cells, batteries, solar cells, biomimetics and catalysts.

Research Highlights

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    Seawater Enhances the Corrosion of Nuclear Fuel Rods

    The Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear accident, which followed the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, is the largest nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chornobyl accident. Substantial volumes of seawater were used in attempts to cool the overheating nuclear reactors. Now, a new study conducted by a team of researchers at the Materials Science of Actinides Energy Frontiers Research Center shows that seawater can potentially enhance the corrosion of nuclear fuel rods, producing uranium compounds that could travel long distances and persist in the environment.
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    Form Gives Function in Ultrathin Crystals

    Molybdenum sulfide or MoS2 is a candidate material for use in solar energy conversion and fuel production. Scientists within two Energy Frontier Research Centers have demonstrated they can optimize the properties of MoS2 by structuring it into atomically thin sheets. Researchers at the Redefining Photovoltaic Efficiency through Molecular Scale Control Center found that single layers of MoS2 display dramatically enhanced light emission. At the Center on Nanostructuring for Efficient Energy Conversion, thin layers of MoS2 grown to form a shell over the surface of molybdenum oxide nanowires efficiently catalyze the production of hydrogen from water.
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    Fool’s Gold: From Deception to Innovation

    Pyrite, or fool’s gold, has long been proposed as a viable solar material because of its outstanding capability to absorb light. This common iron-sulfide mineral has the potential to create devices that could use up to 2,000 times less material than conventional solar cells. Yet, the promise of pyrite has not been fulfilled after decades of effort — it just did not work! Inspired by the discovery of flaws present in pyrite, the Center for Inverse Design team identified new materials, such as iron silicon sulfide or Fe2SiS4, which retain most of the advantages but none of the problems.
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    Flowing Current from Flowing Metal

    Unlike liquid fuels or chemicals, excess electricity cannot be simply stored in a tank and pumped out when it is needed later. However, researchers led by Ray Gorte of the Catalysis Center for Energy Innovation have come one step closer to that idealization by developing a new way to bottle electrical current using molten metal in a solid oxide fuel cell. Their work has been published in a recent issue of the Journal of the Electrochemical Society.
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    Diving into Lithium Ion Batteries

    The full answer to that question may be a step closer, based on new developments in a technique known as scanning ion conductance microscopy, or SICM, by researchers at the Center for Electrical Energy Storage, an Energy Frontier Research Center, which is headed by Argonne National Laboratory. Albert Lipson, a graduate student with the Center at Northwestern University, has adapted a technique used previously in the biological sciences for characterizing cellular structures to improve our understanding of how and why batteries fail.
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Disclaimer: The opinions in this newsletter are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views or position of the Department of Energy.

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