Boston College Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dunwei Wang has received a career award from the National Science Foundation to advance his clean energy technology research and expand the community outreach programs of his lab.
Wang, whose work has focused on developing novel technologies for clean energy applications, has a research portfolio that includes the development of Nanonets, a flexible webbing of nano-scale wires that has shown promise in laboratory tests for use in extracting hydrogen from water.
The grant will allow Wang to expand on that research and also continue his community outreach, including a summer research collaboration with high school science teachers and an interactive display at FanFest, a pre-game festival held before Boston College home football games, where he and his researchers use toys and games to demonstrate solar and hydrogen power technologies.
"We're very excited to receive this recognition and support for our research from the National Science Foundation," said Wang. "With this support, we hope to see our technologies used to make a real impact on the world and making a real difference in people's lives."
Now in his fourth year at Boston College, Wang said community outreach is a natural outgrowth of his lab's research into solutions that could one day provide cleaner fuel or help to build a better lithium-ion battery.
"The pure science and our work with the public are not difficult to balance because they are organically integrated," said Wang. "The science that we pursue we hope will one day make an impact on society. That is our ultimate goal. So based on that, outreach is a part of our research activity."
The five-year, $550,000 award will allow Wang to further refine the Nanonet technology, which has shown potential in the hydrogen fuel-generating process known as water splitting.
Using two abundant and relatively inexpensive elements, Wang and his research team grew the nano-scale wires from titanium and silicon in a two-dimensional network of branches that resemble flat, rectangular netting.
To create the material, the researchers conquered a longstanding engineering challenge in nanotechnology: creating a material that is extremely thin yet maintains its complexity, and offers a structural design large or long enough to efficiently transfer an electrical charge.
The Nanonet's combination of improved structure and the use of highly conductive titanium disilicide has proven useful in water splitting, where the metallic catalyst starts a reaction using sunlight and water that effectively separates hydrogen and oxygen, allowing the harvesting of hydrogen gas for fuel.
"We want to take water splitting to the next level," said Wang. "We have made some exciting progress and this grant will allow us to continue that work to better understand the material and the process to extract hydrogen from water more efficiently and at lower cost."