Pinshane Huang awarded NSF Career Award
Pinshane Huang, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, has been granted an National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award
NSF CAREER grants are given to young faculty who demonstrate great potential early in their careers. Activities pursued by early-career faculty should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.
The award supports five years of research for a project entitled, “Spectroscopic Imaging of Nanoscale and Chemistry at Soft-Hard Interfaces.” The project aims to develop new methods to study nanoparticles that are used in new generations of solar cells, batteries, and catalysts.
“When you synthesize a nanoparticle in water, they are coated by a thin layer of molecules which arrange themselves into complex patterns on the surface. These molecules govern the surface chemistry and interactions of the nanoparticles,” said Pinshane Huang. “The problem is that we don’t have methods to see these molecules.”
Currently, synthetic nanoparticles are made without a specific understanding of how surface molecules are influencing their function. “We use incredibly powerful electron microscopes to magnify the particles by a million times or more so we can study them on the atomic scale and detect the faint signals that come from these small molecules,” Huang says. “Our research is enabled by the cutting-edge electron microscopes located in the Materials Research Lab, including the new Themis Z STEM.” This project’s imaging techniques will hopefully create a design process for nanostructures that will allow them to be developed more quickly and precisely.
“The molecules on the surface are important for determining the size and shape of the nanoparticles, and may answer questions like, How chemically reactive are they? How uniform are all the different nanoparticles? What are their final properties? How efficient are they at converting light to energy? All of those things are actually controlled at the nanoscale, in part, by these surface molecules. But no one has been able to actually look at the molecules themselves.”
Huang joined the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in 2015. Her group specializes in developing new methods to image the structure and chemistry of materials with single atom precision. In addition to the NSF CAREER award, Huang has been recognized with a Packard Fellowship, Sloan Fellowship in Physics, and young investigator awards from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and 3M. Huang has also been named to the 2018 list of Highly Cited Researchers.