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Engineering Professor Part of International Center

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Erin D. McKenzie

Funding awarded to one University of Houston professor by the National Science Foundation is expected to advance energy research as part of a new International Institute for Multifunctional Materials for Energy Conversion (IIMEC).

The center, led by a researcher from Texas A&M University, will join Pradeep Sharma, UH’s Bill D. Cook Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, with more than a dozen scientists from universities across the globe. One of five principal investigators on the project, Sharma and these other researchers will explore ways to help meet the nation’s future energy needs.

“Multifunctional materials have the ability to transform energy from one form, such as optical energy, into a more useful form like electrical energy,” said Sharma. “The center will exploit various classs of multifunctional materials to realize next-generation advances in energy conversion and storage.”

NSF has awarded these researchers $4 million to fund their work for the next five years. Of this, Sharma will get roughly $380,000.

This funding, which will support two new doctoral students, allows Sharma to look at how different materials can be used in energy transmission, storage and conversion. Among his projects is one focused on turning ambient energy into watts of power by unraveling the secrets of an electricity producing material known as piezoelectrics.

He is exploring the possibilities of beefing up piezoelectrics ability to naturally produce electricity when subjected to physical strain as well as manipulating ordinary materials, on the nanoscale, to behave as a piezoelectric one. His hope is to use these materials to create nanodevices with the ability to power a wide array of electronics and possibly even streetlights.

In addition, he is studying ways to make solar energy collection more efficient through the use of quantum dots. He believes photovoltaic solar cells, made from these inexpensive nanocrystals, could assist in converting more collected rays from the sun before they are lost as heat.

Aside from these research projects, the funding will also support work to further materials education overseas. Sharma, and others, will be teaching short courses at partnering institutions that include the British University in Egypt, Science and Technology University in Algeria, Polytechnic School in Tunisia, University of Patras in Greece and Bilkent University in Turkey.



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