Logo: University of Southern California

USC Wins DOE Energy Frontier Research Center

Center for Emerging Materials for Solar Energy Conversion and Solid State Lighting has five-year program
Eric Mankin
April 30, 2009 —

The U.S. Department of Energy has designated the University of Southern California as the site of an Energy Frontier Research Center.

P. Daniel Dapkus will direct the new Energy Frontier Research Center for Emerging Materials for Solar Energy Conversion and Solid State Lighting.
P. Daniel Dapkus of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering will direct the EFRC for Emerging Materials for Solar Energy Conversion and Solid State Lighting. The DOE plans a five-year grant totaling $12.5 million.

Dapkus is William M. Keck Professor of Engineering in the Ming Hsieh Department of Electrical Engineering and also serves as the department's co-chair.  He is the director of the newly created Center for Energy Nanoscience and Technology (CENT) and is an established pioneer in novel designs for light-emitting devices.

Dapkus will work closely with Professor Mark E. Thompson of the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences Department of Chemistry, the associate director of CENT, who (like Dapkus) also has an appointment in the Viterbi School's Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. "Mark was instrumental in attaining this award," said Dapkus, noting the range of expertise the project will require.

Researchers will explore new phenomena possible in organic materials, in thin-layer semiconductor nanostructures, and in hybrid structures utilizing both types of materials to improve the efficiency of solar cells and light sources.

To do this, the EFRC program brings together materials scientists, chemists, electrical engineers and physicists in an effort to design and synthesize new materials and to design new device structures in configurations that will dramatically reduce the cost of high efficiency solar cells and LEDs.

Other USC researchers in the Center team include: Richard Brutchey, Barry Thompson and Steve Bradforth of the College Department of Chemistry; John O'Brien and Barry Thompson of the Ming Hsieh Department; Steve Cronin and Chongwu Zhou, who have joint appointments in Chemistry and in the Ming Hsieh department; Jia Grace Lu, with joint appointments in the College Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Ming Hsieh Department;  and Priya Vashista, Rajiv Kalia, and Aiichiro Nakano, with appointments in Astronomy and Physics and in the Viterbi School Department of Computer Science.

Additionally, Steve Forrest of the University of Michigan,  James J. Coleman of the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, and Joe Campbell of the University of Virginia will be part of the effort.

"The award of this EFRC is a resounding testament to the vision and leadership of Dan Dapkus and the talent of his colleagues on the team," said Viterbi School Dean Yannis C. Yortsos. "It promises to revolutionize the way we utilize energy in our lives and work. And it reaffirms USC as a national leader in the critical area of energy."

"Mark Thompson's leadership was central to our joint success on winning this grant to establish an Energy Frontier Research Center at USC," said College Dean Howard Gillman. "USC is an excellent choice for such a center and Viterbi and College faculty will make an extraordinary collaborative team on this important energy initiative."

The Emerging Materials EFRC is one of 46 nationwide selected from a pool of some 260 applications, based on a rigorous merit review process utilizing outside panels composed of scientific experts, according to the Department of Energy's EFRC website. It is one of 16 that will be funded by President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The criterion for providing an EFRC with Recovery Act funding was job creation. The EFRCs chosen for funding under the Recovery Act provide the most employment for postdoctoral associates, graduate students, undergraduates, and technical staff, in keeping with the Recovery Act’s objective to preserve and create jobs and promote economic recovery, according to DOE documents.

The EFRC program represents a projected total national investment of $777 million.

“As global energy demand grows over this century, there is an urgent need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and imported oil and curtail greenhouse gas emissions,” said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.  “Meeting this challenge will require significant scientific advances.  These Centers will mobilize the enormous talents and skills of our nation’s scientific workforce in pursuit of the breakthroughs that are essential to make alternative and renewable energy truly viable as large-scale replacements for fossil fuels.”

USC faculty will also be part of EFRCs at two other institutions. Fokion Egolfopoulos and Hai Wang of the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering will participate in the Princeton University EFRC for Combustion Science.  Wang will also work with the University of Delaware EFRC for Rational Design of Innovative Catalytic Technologies for Biomass Derivative Utilization.