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UTA To Develop New Semiconductor Materials

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One of ten American universities to receive a three-year, $800,000 NSF grant through Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials (PREM)

The University of Texas at Arlington is one of ten American universities nationwide to receive a three-year, $800,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant through the Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials (PREM) program and Northwestern University's Materials Research Science and Engineering centre to develop new functional materials for energy and semiconductor applications.

“We will develop materials that are yet to be discovered,” said Stathis Meletis (pictured above), chair of UT Arlington's Department of Materials Science and Engineering, who will lead the project. “It's very exciting.”

Coprincipal investigators are Krishnan Rajeshwar, professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Ramon Lopez, physics professor; Seong Jin Koh, professor of materials science and engineering; and Mark Hersam, professor of chemistry and materials science engineering at Northwestern.

Meletis said the team will work on functional materials that help with filtering energy, developing nanostructures and new inorganic semiconductors, and building solar energy conversion and magnetic and optoelectronic devices. The first focus area of the PREM will centre on electron transport and energy filtering across mixed-dimensional heterostructures.

The second focus area of the PREM aims to develop new families of inorganic compound semiconductors for solar cells. The goal is to systematically vary the structural and chemical framework and explore corresponding variations in the optical and electronic properties of the parent compound. Ternary oxides will be the focus of initial studies.

Peter Crouch, dean of the UTA College of Engineering, said the collaboration with Northwestern is a coup for UT Arlington faculty and students.

“The partnership will allow our graduate students to conduct research there in the summer,” Crouch said. “That's a tremendous educational opportunity for our students.”

One emphasis of the grant is to promote graduate education to underrepresented domestic students, Meletis said. In 2014, UTA became the largest public four-year university in Texas to meet U.S. Department of Education requirements to be labeled a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI). The College of Engineering has about 40% underrepresented minorities in total enrollment but about 7% in graduate enrollment.

“Our goal is to double the number of underrepresented graduate students in materials science and engineering in three years,” Meletis said. “We believe that involving undergraduates in materials research, mentorship and educational opportunities during the summer here and at Northwestern will help in that recruitment.”

The NSF awarded 10 PREM seed grants to collaborative research teams across the United States that will lay the groundwork for full-fledged PREM awards in the future. Each seed award provides $800,000—for a total NSF investment of $8 million—and will support materials research partnerships between minority-serving institutions and large-scale, NSF-supported research centres and facilities.

These seed grants are intended to support these minority-serving institutions over the next three years to begin building partnerships, with the hope that they will be better prepared and ready for a full PREM award in the future.

“Our PREM program is helping to build the future of materials research and the students, faculty and partners who are engaged in it,” said Sean L. Jones, assistant director of mathematical and physical sciences at the NSF. “This program allows us to harness more talent by expanding and developing a diverse workforce that will lead to exciting innovations and continue to push U.S. leadership in STEM fields.”

The other universities receiving PREM seed grants are Tennessee State University, Howard University, Florida A&M University, California State University at Long Beach, Xavier University, Delaware State University, Claflin University, University of Central Florida, University of Hawaii at Manoa and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

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