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NDSU Research Connects the Dots to Renewable Energy Future

Fargo, N.D. – Svetlana Kilina, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at North Dakota State University, Fargo, has received a $750,000 five-year award from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science Early Career Research Program. Funding will be used to conduct research outlined in Dr. Kilina’s proposal titled “Modeling of Photoexcited Process at Interfaces of Functionalized Quantum Dots.”

Dr. Kilina’s research occurs at the intersection of renewable energy, high-performance computing, nanotechnology and chemistry. Only 68 awardees were selected from a pool of about 850 university- and national laboratory-based applicants, based on peer review by outside scientific experts.

Quantum dots are nanocrystals discovered by scientists in the 1980s. Ranging in size from two to 10 nanometers, billions of them could fit on the head of a pin. Their tiny sizes belie the Herculean impact they could make in semiconductors and energy. Dr. Kilina’s work centers on new generation solar cells and fuel cells using quantum-dot-based materials.

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 (two electrons-hole pairs instead of one) 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,” said Dr. Kilina. “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.”

Dr. 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, Dr. 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. The combination of NDSU supercomputing and government facilities substantially reduces the amount of time needed for the massive calculations used in this research.

“Dr. Kilina’s research aims to gain fundamental understanding of nanomaterials at the molecular and electronic level,” said Dr. 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. The Department of Energy award recognizes Dr. Kilina’s unique expertise in the area of theoretical modeling of these materials critical for the future,” said Cook.

Dr. 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. It is anticipated that the acquired theoretical knowledge gained from the research at NDSU will help 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.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy website, the Office of Science Early Career Research Program awards are designed to bolster the nation’s scientific workforce by providing support to exceptional researchers during the crucial early career years, when many scientists do their most formative work. The research awards also aim at providing incentives for scientists to focus on mission research areas that are a high priority for the Department of Energy and the nation. Dr. Kilina’s research is funded by the Office of Science, U.S. Department of Energy, Award No. DE-SC0008446.

Dr. Svetlana Kilina joined the faculty at NDSU in 2010. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, N.M., after receiving her Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Washington, Seattle, Wash. She received a master’s degree in physics from Belarus State University, Minsk, Belarus.

Dr. Kilina’s research was selected for most recent funding by the Office of Basic Energy Sciences and the U.S. Department of Energy Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. She previously received research funding from the North Dakota Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research from 2010 to 2012. For more info regarding Dr. Kilina’s research, visit

NDSU, Fargo, North Dakota, USA, is notably listed among the top 108 U.S. public and private universities in the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education’s category of “Research Universities/Very High Research Activity.” As a student-focused, land grant, research institution, NDSU is listed in the Top 100 research universities in the U.S. for R&D in computer science, chemistry, and physical, social and agricultural sciences, based on research expenditures reported to the National Science Foundation.

Student Focused. Land Grant. Research University.

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