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Two Boise State Engineering Faculty Earn CAREER Awards

By: Kathleen Tuck   Published 2:02 pm / February 24, 2017

Eric Jankowski and Janliang Zhang

Boise State University engineering professors Eric Jankowski and Yanliang Zhang have earned prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Awards. Each project was selected to receive about $500,000 over the course of five years.

The CAREER award is the NSF’s most prestigious award supporting junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations. It is intended to give promising researchers an early career boost by providing stable research funding over an extended period of time.

Eric Jankowski

Eric Jankowski and student in the lab.

Eric Jankowski and Kendra Noneman examine a molecule model in the Computational Materials Engineering Lab.

Jankowski is an assistant professor in the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering. His lab figures out how to arrange molecules to give materials desired properties, particularly carbon-based advanced materials.

The goal of his CAREER project is to transform how organic photovoltaics (OPVs) are made, enabling the wide deployment of inexpensive, sustainable energy production. Imagine printing a sheet of plastic that converts enough sunlight into electricity to justify its cost within a few days. Such solar panels are possible if printing technologies can be made to fabricate high-efficiency OPVs.

“I’m enormously grateful for NSF’s support through the CAREER award and humbled to be included among its recipients,” Jankowski said. “This will provide sustained graduate student support so we can take our preliminary plastic solar material studies to the next level. I’m so excited for the science this is going to make possible.”

Jankowski believes that no other single advance will as broadly improve the health, security and opportunity of global citizens as these inexpensive, accessible power sources that fuel development while mitigating climate change.

The project aims to improve simulation techniques for predicting OPV nanostructures, predict the nanostructures of the largest-ever library of OPV ingredient mixtures, apply new learning techniques to identify design rules for molecules that spontaneously arrange, computationally evaluate the best nanostructures for OPVs, and collaborate to make and test the plastic solar cells predicted by his lab.

The project also will help prepare graduates for high-tech jobs in the future. Jankowski said this will be accomplished with computational training for undergraduate materials scientists and informal science teaching through the Discovery Center of Idaho.

Yanliang Zhang

Yanliang Zhang in the lab.

Yanliang Zhang in his research lab.

Zhang is an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering. His project will focus on developing novel additive printing methods to transform semiconductor nanocrystals into high-performance, low cost and flexible thermoelectric and electronic devices.

“I am very grateful for the recognition and support of my research by NSF,” said Zhang. “The career project will develop a new manufacturing approach for large-scale, low-cost and flexible materials for broad applications. The integrated research and education program will provide educational opportunities to a broad range of audiences and support workforce development to address increasing needs in the area of advanced manufacturing for sustainable energy and electronic technologies.”

Flexible thermoelectric and electronic films have the potential to impact a broad range of applications in energy harvesting, cooling and flexible electronics.

Conventional thermoelectric and electronic devices are rigid and are made using complex and relatively costly processes. Printing-based approaches offer low-cost and highly scalable ways to assemble colloidal nanocrystals of unique properties into flexible thermoelectric and electronic devices. Because they are so small, nanocrystals can be formed into inks that can be printed onto flexible substrates and in useful near-final-form structures.

The project will complete four objectives to establish a new paradigm for processing colloidal nanocrystals from nanoscale to macroscale: synthesize nanocrystals, and control their size, surface chemistry and doping; print and sinter flexible films, with controlled interfacial chemistry; establish the processing-structure-property relationship; and design and print proof of concept devices.