Western Washington University Assistant Professor of Chemistry Tim Kowalczyk has been awarded a prestigious five-year, $496,000 Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for his research into porous organic frameworks for energy conversion and storage.
“I’m grateful for this early-career award from the NSF which reflects outstanding contributions from our entire team of student researchers, as well as technical and moral support from colleagues across the College of Science and Engineering and the Institute for Energy Studies,” Kowalczyk said.
Last year, Kowalczyk was named one of only 24 Cottrell Scholars nationwide by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement for his research into solar thermal fuels.
His newest research continues to focus on solar energy, but in a different way; Kowalczyk’s lab is looking into embedding certain types of molecular units within stacked, 2D molecular frameworks (see image) to efficiently capture solar energy, and to transfer that energy by selectively conducting negative or positive charges across the layers of that framework.
“Small changes in the structure and stacking of these frameworks have an enormous impact on how well they can use energy from light to push electrons through the layers.” he said.
Kowalczyk said that central deliverables for this grant include computer algorithms and core computational methodologies that will allow chemists and physicists to efficiently and accurately calculate the likelihood of certain electronic transitions in organic materials.
“Porous organic frameworks are a new frontier in materials chemistry, so our experimental collaborators are counting on our simulations to help explain the structures and charge mobilities they measure in their frameworks,” Kowalczyk explained. “Their data, in turn, help us to benchmark and refine the computational models.”
According to the NSF, the Faculty Early Career Development Program offers the National Science Foundation's most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.
The award was one of only a handful given out to master’s-granting institutions like Western, (less than 10 percent of all such awards were given to faculty at these institutions last year) and is the University’s fourth such award in the last decade: Professor of Chemistry Greg O’Neil was awarded a similar grant for his research into the utilization of algae as a biofuel; Professor Janelle Leger of Western’s Physics and Astronomy Department was awarded one in 2011 for her work on the use of polymers in electronics; and Associate Professor of Chemistry John Gilbertson received the award in 2013 for his research into breaking down harmful greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and transforming them into useful compounds.
For more information about Kowalczyk’s research or his new NSF CAREER Award, contact him at Tim.Kowalczyk@wwu.edu.