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Wagenknecht aims to shine light on solar energy

In April this year, Furman Chemistry Professor and alumnus Paul Wagenknecht welcomed news that his proposal to the National Science Foundation received full funding. Beginning in September, the three-year, $300,000 grant is earmarked for investigating cheaper ways to convert solar energy into electricity. The grant covers undergraduate research stipends and purchase of a fluorescence spectrometer, a $50,000 instrument for studying how molecules interact with light.

The award was based on Wagenknecht’s proposal, “Synthesis and Photophysical Studies of Transition Metal Alkynyl Complexes for Applications in Photochemical Molecular Devices.” It sounds highly technical, but Wagenknecht’s goals are simple.

“Basically, our research is aimed at designing and studying molecules that might help us more efficiently turn solar energy into electricity, or electricity into light for flat panel displays or other consumer lighting LEDs,” he explains.

Among other technologies, the grant supports research related to optoelectronic devices such as dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs), a vehicle for converting solar energy into stored chemical energy or electricity. DSSCs are potentially cheaper and easier to produce than conventional solar panels, which may lead to cheaper electricity for all, and better availability of electricity for underdeveloped regions.

Amid solar technology trade wars with China, and our need to shift to renewable energy resources, there’s no better time than now for exploring more economical ways to produce solar panels.

In addition to funding research related to DSSCs, the grant backs the study of transition metal complexes for use in organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs), the materials used in the newest flat panel display devices such as televisions and hand held computing devices. OLEDs are thinner and lighter and have higher contrast levels than competing technologies, says Wagenknecht.

Wagenknecht, who joined the Furman faculty in 2004, says the project will provide excellent training of undergraduate, masters, and postdoctoral students in the area of device chemistry. “I’m excited about the opportunities this funding creates for students at Furman. They will be uniquely trained to solve some of our most vexing technological problems.”

Last updated May 20, 2014
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Clinton Colmenares
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