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September 2013

Connecting the Dots

Summary of the EFRC Principal Investigators' Meeting

Adam Wise

The poster sessions provided an important opportunity to discuss research one on one.

For two intense days, hundreds of scientists descended on the Energy Frontier Research Centers Principal Investigators' Meeting to discuss, late into the night, their work pushing the frontiers of energy research. The schedule was packed with presentations and posters that allowed the attendees to quickly make connections between their work and others.

"I found the meeting to be overwhelmingly positive," said Lance Wheeler of the Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics. "For example, my work has focused on the surface chemistry of silicon quantum dots, and I stumbled into a conversation with a non-CASP researcher that was integral to the understanding of planar silicon surface chemistry decades ago. It was a fantastic conversation that can really only happen in a setting like the PI [principal investigator] meeting."

Principal investigators, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students associated with the EFRCs assembled at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, D.C., this July to discuss the centers' recent scientific advances. The program began with general-interest talks highlighting the importance of basic and applied energy research, as well as cross-pollination between government and labs, given by Patricia Dehmer from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, George Crabtree of Argonne National Lab, and Arun Majumdar of Google.

Technical sessions followed, focused on the main research thrusts of the EFRCs -- from new ways of harnessing renewable energy, to new techniques for improving bio, fossil, and nuclear technologies.

In addition to the many renowned researchers presenting their cutting-edge work, the meeting provided a chance for graduate students and postdoctoral scientists to take the stage. Xavier Roy of the Re-Defining Photovoltaic Efficiency Through Molecule Scale Control Center presented a well-received summary of his work on molecular clusters -- well-defined balls of perfectly arranged atoms with great potential for application in next-generation photovoltaics.

"I'm always worried that my research will get overlooked at these type of meetings because it is more explorative and fundamental," he admitted, "However, the diversity of projects was pretty amazing at this particular meeting and people responded very well to my work. I saw a number of very interesting and unexpected talks on topics that I'm not familiar with."

Beyond the usual array of technical posters, the EFRC's Ten Hundred and One Words Challenge posters were on display. These works explained complex and technical subjects, for example new advances in battery technology, using simple words and pictures -- no jargon. The overall winner "Powering Your Car with Sunlight," from the Center for Lignocellulose Structure and Formation, did an impressive job using vibrant pictures and words accessible to an elementary school student.

Finally, the EFRC poster sessions provided an important face-to-face mixer where all career levels could meet on equal footing, share work, and discuss new collaborative opportunities.

With only two days of events, the EFRC principal investigators' meeting compressed the output of 46 centers and hundreds of scientists into an intense and extremely concentrated stream of cross-disciplinary brainpower.

About the author(s):

  • Adam Wise is a postdoctoral research associate at the Polymer-Based Materials for Harvesting Solar Energy (PHaSE) Energy Frontier Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Under the tutelage of Michael Barnes, Adam is using spectroscopy to understand next-generation photovoltaic materials, and give immediate feedback on light-matter interaction in these materials to the synthetic chemists and materials engineers who are designing them.

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.