Rutgers-Newark student conducts research abroad as part of $1.3 million NSF grant

May 04, 2006

Newark- Rutgers-Newark Honors College senior Dorothy Chu will earn her undergraduate degree in May and like many graduates will head to Europe for the summer. But unlike some of her classmates, Chu is not planning on taking a well-deserved vacation. Instead, the Hopewell Township resident will travel to Sweden to assist some of the world's leading Chemistry researchers who are attempting to discover ways to improve the efficiency of converting solar power to alternative fuel sources.

"I'm really excited about this," Chu said. "I have never been to Europe and to work with someone who is at the top of his field is quite an honor."

Chu will leave for Sweden in June to conduct research with Dr. Anders Hagfeldt at Stockholm's Royal Institute of Technology. Her research abroad was made possible by Rutgers-Newark Chemistry Professor Elena Galoppini, who is working with fellow Rutgers-Newark Chemistry Professor Piotr Piotrowiak and Johns Hopkins University Professor Gerald Meyer as part of a Nanoscale Interdisciplinary Research Team (NIRT) which has received a $1,030,760 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the electronic interaction of organic and nanoparticle materials. Dr. Galoppini serves as principal investigator for the study which began in 2003. She secured additional funding to the original grant so Chu could participate in the research.

"We are studying ways to test prototype solar cells that employ electrodes based on a novel type of dye designed and synthesized at Rutgers-Newark and semiconductor nanoparticles (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide)," Dr. Galoppini explained.

Essentially, researchers are attempting to test a new molecule that absorbs light more efficiently. It is their hope that by attaching the new molecule to semi-conductor surfaces and injecting an electron into the semi-conductor they will be able to create a process where light is more efficiently converted into an energy source such as electricity. Dr. Hagfeldt's team, which specializes in the construction and testing of novel types of solar cells and photovoltaic devices for solar energy conversion, is assisting Rutgers-Newark and Johns-Hopkins researchers by testing their new compounds.

Galoppini hopes the team's efforts will lead to more efficient methods of converting solar power into new energy sources. Soaring fuel costs have led to heightened interest in this field among government officials both in the United States and overseas.

"My colleagues are concerned that there should be more investment by the government in this research than there is now," Galoppini noted. "But recently the government has funded a new set of projects dedicated to hydrogen production research and that is an encouraging sign. For instance, following a request by the Department of Energy to Congress, President Bush has included nearly $34.1 million in the 2007 fiscal year budget for basic research in solar energy utilization."

Chu will assist with the NIRT research in Sweden for two months and present a paper on her work in July at the 16th Annual International Conference on Photochemical Conversion and Storage of Solar Energy in Uppsala, Sweden. When she returns to Rutgers-Newark, she will also present her talk to her fellow undergraduate students to share her research and her experience in Sweden. Conducting research abroad is the second honor that Chu has received over the past two years. She was also the recipient of the Anna and Bernard Z. Senkowski Scholarship, which supports Rutgers-Newark chemistry majors and is awarded based on financial need and academic performance.

Although Chu enjoys her work with Galoppini and feels privileged to be assisting with such important research, she will continue to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. She is enrolled in the Rutgers-Newark joint BA/MD program with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and plans to specialize in pediatric medicine one day.

"I'm still going to medical school," Chu says. "But this work is meaningful and very important and having an opportunity to do this research has been one of the best experiences I've had here."
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