Assistant Professor of Chemistry Renske van der Veen Receives NSF CAREER Award

Renske van der Veen, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Illinois and Affiliate Professor in both Materials Science and Engineering and the Frederick Seitz Materials Research Lab (MRL), recently received a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award for her submitted proposal.

Renske van der Veen
Renske van der Veen

The NSF’s Early Career Development Program’s (CAREER) awards are prestigious, competitive awards given to young faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholar through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research. The program will provide five years of support for each award. 

Renske’s CAREER award was for her proposal “Ultrafast Imaging and Spectroscopy of Cooperative Phenomena in Photomagnetic Nanomaterials.” Controlling the properties and functions of molecule-based materials at the nanoscale comprises a long-standing goal in solid-state chemistry. Miniaturization down to nanoscopic dimensions (1-100 nm) is typically required to provide materials of sufficiently small sizes for their use as data storage and optoelectronic devices, or for efficient solar energy conversion. A particularly attractive way of manipulating the properties of such functional nanomaterials is by using short pulses of laser light. However, watching a single particle change its properties (e.g. color, shape, magnetic or electric properties) in the laboratory presents unique challenges, according to Renske. New techniques are being developed to observe such dynamics on the femtosecond (hundred quadrillionth of a second) time scale and with atomic-scale (Angstrom) spatial resolution.

“With NSF’s support, we aim to unravel the pathways behind light-induced switching at the nanoscale,” Renske said. "Since these switching events typically take place on very fast time scales, we need sophisticated techniques to observe these processes. One of the goals of this project is to watch a single nanoparticle change its shape under light-exposure using an ultrafast electron microscope that we are currently developing at the MRL.”

An allied goal of this project is the training of the future STEM workforce through the development of a three day “Synchrotron Boot Camp,” as well as research-integrated outreach demonstrations for girls and underprivileged middle-school-aged children.

Renske shared: “I am really excited about receiving this award from NSF! It will help my lab to further develop these challenging ultrafast methods and to explore intriguing effects at the nanoscale. I love being able to zoom into nanoscale processes, both in time and space. It really feels like being the film director of a ‘molecular movie’ that will ultimately tell us the story of how we could improve the efficiency and controllability of light-induced energy conversion processes.”

Learn more about Renske and her research.