NDSU researcher exploring materials to help solve world's energy challenges
Published March 07, 2013
Billions of these could fit on the head of a pin. The tiny size of quantum dots belie the Herculean impact they could make in the semiconductor and energy industries. Svetlana Kilina at NDSU is studying how these dots could impact new generation solar cells and fuel cells using quantum-dot-based materials.
Kilina, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, conducts research at the intersection of renewable energy, high-performance computing, nanotechnology and chemistry. Quantum dots are nanocrystals discovered by scientists in the 1980s. They range in size from two to 10 nanometers.
Materials at the nanoscale level behave differently than at larger scales. Energized quantum dots absorb and emit light. The color of the light depends on the size of the dot. In addition, one quant of light can generate more than two carriers of electric current in quantum dots. As a result, quantum dots could convert energy to light or vice versa more efficiently than conventional energy materials based on bulk semiconductors such as silicon. That makes quantum dots very promising materials for solar cells and other energy applications.
“One of the main obstacles in the synthesis of quantum dots is the controllable chemistry of the quantum dot surface,” Kilina said. “Due to their nanosize, the dots are extremely chemically reactive, and different organic molecules from solvent/air environment interact with the surface of the quantum dot during and after synthesis. These molecules cover the surface of the quantum dot like a shell, influencing its optical and electronic properties.”
Kilina uses supercomputers to conduct computer-simulated experiments, investigate and advance her research in this field. Her goal is to generate theoretical insights to the surface chemistry of quantum dots, which are critical to design efficient quantum-dot-based materials for solar energy conversion and lighting applications.
To apply her model and algorithmic methods, Kilina’s research group uses supercomputers at the NDSU Center for Computationally Assisted Science and Technology, in addition to Department of Energy and Los Alamos National Laboratory leadership-class, high-performance computing facilities.
“Dr. Kilina’s research aims to gain fundamental understanding of nanomaterials at the molecular and electronic level,” said Greg Cook, chair of NDSU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “Insights gained from this research will enable the progression of solar energy technology to help solve the world’s energy challenges.”
Kilina’s research addresses fundamental questions of modern materials science that affect the design and manufacture of new-generation energy conversion devices. To design and manufacture such devices requires developing new multi-functional materials with controllable properties.
Research under way at NDSU could better explain and interpret experimental data and could facilitate rational design of new nanostructures with desired optical, transport and light harvesting properties that are fundamental to a myriad of clean energy technologies. Kilina’s research is funded by the Office of Science, U.S. Department of Energy, Award No. DE-SC0008446.