The Research Corporation for Science Advancement has named Western Washington University assistant professor of Chemistry Tim Kowalczyk a 2018 Cottrell Scholar, an honor that comes with a grant stipend to allow him to continue his research into the developing technology around solar thermal fuels.
The RCSA only hands out 24 Cottrell Scholar awards each year, with the majority going to faculty members at Research 1 universities; however, this year marks the third year in a row a Chemistry faculty member from WWU has been honored in this way.
“It's a testament to Western's integration of undergraduate research and education that the university has received three of these awards in a row,” said Kowalczyk.
Other institutions receiving Cottrell honors this year included Caltech, UCLA, the University of Chicago, and Northwestern.
Cottrell Scholar awards and the grants that accompany them are designed to support the integration of cutting-edge research into undergraduate classrooms and laboratories an in effort to allow these students research opportunities and methodologies they would otherwise not be exposed to.
The fact that these fuels don’t need to be excavated, are renewable, and don’t produce harmful emissions when used makes them incredibly attractive. They really challenge the notion of what it is to be a fuel.
This summer, Kowalczyk will continue work with a student team around the developing field of solar thermal fuels – a type of renewable fuel that, when its molecules are exposed to light, enters a strained state, much like a compacted spring; when the spring is triggered, the fuel releases its energy as heat. The spring can then be reloaded simply by exposing the fuel to light, and the cycle is repeated. These molecules, called molecular photoswitches, do not release carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases when they are used.
“We are just starting to scratch the surface of the potential uses for solar thermal fuels. The fact that these fuels don’t need to be excavated, are renewable, and don’t produce harmful emissions when used makes them incredibly attractive. They really challenge the notion of what it is to be a fuel,” he said.
For more information about Kowalczyk’s research or his Cottrell Scholar award from the RCSA, contact him at Tim.Kowalczyk@wwu.edu. For a short video with Kowalczyk about how solar thermal fuels work, click here or go to https://vimeo.com/270928512.