NDSU’s Svetlana Kilina has received a research fellowship for young scientists whose achievements identify them as the next generation of scientific leaders.
Kilina, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, received a 2014 Sloan Research Fellowship from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Past recipients include some of the world’s best-known scientists and scholars, such as physicist Richard Feynman and game theorist John Nash.
Kilina is the first researcher at NDSU and at a North Dakota college or university to receive the honor, which includes $50,000 to advance her research.
She is one of 126 U.S. and Canadian researchers from 61 colleges and universities to receive the fellowship. Recipients are nominated by fellow scientists and selected by an independent panel of senior scholars. They are chosen on the basis of research accomplishments, creativity and potential to become a leader in their field.
Kilina’s research blends renewable energy, high-performance computing, nanotechnology and quantum chemistry and has the potential to help solve the world’s energy challenges.
She uses high-performance computing to numerically simulate chemical and physical processes when tiny materials called quantum dots absorb solar light. Quantum dots promise many benefits over conventional technology; however, how efficiently the light energy is converted into electric current is affected by interactions with different molecules on the surface of the quantum dot.
Kilina’s simulations help reveal the role that different surface molecules play on the energy conversion process in these technologically important materials. Her theoretical studies provide guidance for novel design strategies of nanomaterials that more efficiently convert solar energy to electric current.
“Developing alternative and more sustainable energy platforms represents a grand challenge and demands technological innovations in many related fields,” wrote Greg Cook, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at NDSU, in a nomination letter. “Dr. Kilina’s research program at NDSU is well positioned to address some of these key challenges.”
Undergraduate and graduate students are involved in Kilina’s research, gaining hands-on experience in her lab. Students she mentors have presented research at more than 25 local and national science meetings during the last three years, earning eight best poster/presentation awards. A North Dakota high school student co-wrote a scientific publication as the result of working with Kilina during a summer research program. “This demonstrates the high caliber of research in her group and strong professional preparation of her students,” Cook wrote.
Kilina also developed a new course in computational quantum chemistry at NDSU. The course gives science and engineering students the opportunity to apply molecular design methods, gain experience with widely used computational software and perform their own computational simulations. For this course, as well as for research at Kilina’s lab, students use supercomputers at NDSU’s Center for Computationally Assisted Science and Technology, or CCAST, to run calculations of very large molecular systems.
Other national honors Kilina has received include the 2014 OpenEye Outstanding Junior Faculty Award in Computational Chemistry from the American Chemistry Society. In 2012, she was selected for the highly competitive Department of Energy Earlier Career Research Award, which provided a five-year, $750,000 grant, award No. DE-SC0008446, to support her research. Sixty-eight of 850 researchers who applied received funding, and only 16 of the funded projects were theoretical/computational proposals like Kilina’s.
Kilina earned her doctorate in chemistry at the University of Washington, Seattle. She completed a two-year Director’s Postdoctoral fellowship at Los Alamos National Lab before joining NDSU in 2010. She continues to collaborate with the lab and serves as a visiting scientist there every summer. Several of her students also were awarded summer internships there in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
NDSU is recognized as one of the nation's top 108 public and private universities by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.