Written by Vineeth Venugopal
Moderated by Suveen Mathaudhu, Chair of the MRS Awards Committee, the 2023 MRS Fall Meeting featured a session of Lightning Talks and a panel discussion by the award recipients. This year's awards continued the tradition of recognizing both seasoned and emerging researchers in materials science. Mathaudhu encouraged the audience to nominate deserving individuals, particularly from underrepresented groups in the field. Each winner presented a 15-minute presentation of their work which was followed by a general panel discussion.
Delia J. Milliron, a distinguished researcher from The University of Texas at Austin, received the prestigious MRS Medal for her groundbreaking work in the development of optically tunable metal oxide nanomaterials. Her research focuses on the transformative application of these materials in creating energy-saving electrochromic windows. Milliron's work integrates the realms of nanotechnology and materials science to address crucial energy efficiency challenges. Her unique approach involves manipulating the optical properties of semiconductor nanocrystals, such as indium tin oxide (ITO), to control solar heat gain and visible glare in smart window applications. This technology not only promises significant energy savings in buildings but also paves the way for innovations in solar energy utilization and molecular detection.
Chris Van de Walle, Materials Theory Award Recipient - University of California, Santa Barbara
Chris Van de Walle, from the University of California, Santa Barbara, was honored with the Materials Theory Award for his exceptional contributions to understanding point defects and their impact on light emission in wide-bandgap semiconductors. His work involves meticulous ab initio methodologies, significantly advancing our comprehension of semiconductors' optoelectronic properties. His work accurately accounts for the emission behavior of green light-emitting diodes at high current densities by taking into account a special class of optical phenomena called the Auger-Meitner process. In addition, by accounting for multi photon processes, this work can be extended to other wavelengths. Van de Walle's research has far-reaching implications for improving the performance of solar cells, light-emitting diodes, and other optoelectronic devices. He has been instrumental in identifying new theoretical approaches, thereby providing novel insights into the behavior of materials and unlocking new potentials in semiconductor technology.
Qi Dong, MRS Nelson "Buck" Robinson Science and Technology Award for Renewable Energy Recipient - Purdue University
Qi Dong, incoming professor at Purdue University, was recognized with the MRS Nelson "Buck" Robinson Science and Technology Award for Renewable Energy for his innovative exploration of electrified methods in materials and chemical synthesis. His work is instrumental in leveraging renewable electricity to decarbonize industrial sectors. In postdoctoral work that made the cover of Nature, Dong demonstrated a reactor tube with internal carbon heating elements that vastly improved the efficiency and selectivity of chemical reactions. He showed that by applying pulsed currents high value chemical compounds could be selectively synthesized from methane. Dong's research includes the electrified synthesis of high-entropy micro- and nanoparticles, with potential applications in catalysis and energy storage. He also focuses on sustainable and energy-efficient approaches to convert macromolecules into valuable products, demonstrating significant advancements in processes such as methane pyrolysis and ammonia synthesis. Dong's contributions are crucial in addressing global energy and environmental challenges, marking a significant step toward sustainable chemical manufacturing.
Michael Saliba, The Kavli Foundation Early Career Lectureship in Materials Science Recipient - University of Stuttgart
The Kavli Foundation Early Career Lectureship in Materials Science was awarded to Michael Saliba from the University of Stuttgart. His research on the versatility of perovskite materials for optoelectronics has made a significant impact in the field. Saliba's talk highlighted the appeal of perovskite solar cells (PSCs), focusing on a high-quality multication model that promises robust materials with enhanced reproducibility and stability. He showed, for example, that by combining two, three, or four cations together, we end up with a library of 651 possible materials - that could potentially be explored in a high throughput manner. These compounds could be critical in overcoming the Shockley-Queisser limit which sets the theoretical maximum performance for solar cells. He underscored the importance of integrating polymeric protection layers at interfaces to boost the performance of PSCs. Saliba's work not only contributes to the advancement of solar cell technology but also sets a roadmap for extending multicomponent engineering to a diverse range of applications, marking a critical step in the evolution of photovoltaic materials.
During the engaging discussion session that followed their presentations, the panelists addressed a variety of questions from the audience. Saliba offered insightful observations on the current state of solar cell technology. He highlighted the remarkable affordability of silicon-based solar cells, now cheaper than bathroom tiles, underscoring the challenge other materials face in competing with silicon due to its economies of scale. With an annual production of 70 billion solar cells, silicon's dominance in the market is a significant hurdle for alternative materials. Dong responded to inquiries about the efficiency of his carbon filament-based reactors in manufacturing nanoparticles. He speculated that the rapidity of pulsed currents in the reactors likely prevented the atoms in the nanoparticles from becoming dislocated, thus contributing to their effectiveness.
A key question posed to all participants was the relevance of their work in addressing climate change. Saliba, Dong, and Van de Walle emphasized how their respective researches contribute to significant improvements in the efficiency of devices and chemical manufacturing processes. This enhancement, they noted, plays a crucial role in reducing the energy footprint across various industries. Milliron added a broader perspective to the discussion, suggesting that in addition to developing efficient technologies, it is vital to consider the overall energy consumption patterns. The panelists collectively agreed that addressing climate change requires a comprehensive socio-technological approach, underscoring the need for integrated solutions that encompass both technological advancements and societal changes.
MRS acknowledges the generosity of Dr. Gwo-Ching Wang and Dr. Toh-Ming Lu in endowing the MRS Medal and the Materials Theory Award. MRS acknowledges the generosity of Sophie Robinson for endowing this award in memory of her father, Nelson "Buck" Robinson. The Kavli Foundation is dedicated to advancing science for the benefit of humanity, promoting public understanding of scientific research and supporting scientists and their work.