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Faculty Members Win Prestigious NSF CAREER Research Awards

Published: March 16, 2009

Imagine creating porous crystals that can be used for hydrogen storage or carbon dioxide capture, or developing enhanced flexible organic photovoltaic cells for electricity generation.

Those are among the research topics being pursued by Xianhui Bu, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Thomas Gredig, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at CSULB. They were among recipients of 2009 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The agency describes CAREER as the “most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”

Bu received $597,707 for his five-year project titled “Synthesis, Structures, and Properties of Crystalline Boron-Based Porous Materials,” and Gredig was awarded $449,871 for his five-year program on “Morphology Control to Build 3D Magnetic Nanostructures and Tune Organic Solar Cells.”

Bu joined CSULB in 2003 and earned his Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo and his B.S. degree from Fudan University in Shanghai, China. In 2008, he co-authored articles that appeared on the covers of the journals Angewandte Chemie (Applied Chemistry) International Edition of the German Chemical Society and Chemical Communications of the Royal Chemical Society. He also has published in Science, Nature and Journal of the American Chemical Society and received a $676,118 grant from the National Institutes of Health to support his research on chiral materials. His latest manuscript, which is the basis for his CAREER award, has been selected as a “hot paper” by editors of Angewandte Chemie “for its importance in a rapidly evolving field of high current interest.”

His lab includes undergraduate and graduate students as well as a postdoctoral researcher who are developing new forms of porous crystals that promote chemical reactions or gas storage by providing increased surface area or shape selectivity for separating different types of molecules. His CAREER projects deals with potential uses of porous materials as adsorbents for hydrogen storage and carbon dioxide sequestration.

Last year, Bu was one of five national winners of the Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award presented by the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation. The $60,000 award recognizes faculty members from U.S. bachelor’s and master’s colleges who “have demonstrated leadership in original scholarly research of outstanding quality with undergraduates and excellence and dedication in undergraduate education.”

Gredig, who joined CSULB in 2007, is a Swiss native who has been in the United States for 10 years. He did undergraduate work at the University of Basel, Switzerland; earned his M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; and did postdoctoral studies at UC San Diego.

His specialty is organic semiconductors, which are carbon-based molecules, with the goal of building electronic circuits with such materials. “Such organic devices can be built less expensively and deposited onto flexible substrates because they don’t require high heat during processing. They are not going to replace current semiconductor circuits, but there are complementary devices that could be created,” he said.

His current focus is on how such organic semiconductors grow as thin films of only 10 to 20 molecules in thickness, then on the combination of two layers to create what is called an n-p junction that can act as a photovoltaic cell to convert light into electricity. “This would be an organic photovoltaic cell as opposed to commonly available silicon cells. The organic photovoltaic cells are much less efficient than silicon, but they may have other specialized applications, such as on non-even surfaces,” he explained. Working with a molecule called phthalocyanine, he and his students are developing a method of roughening its surface that will lead to more efficient organic photovoltaic cells.

In addition to working with CSULB undergraduate and graduate students, “My group will collaborate on phthalocyanine chemistry with CSULB chemistry Professor Marco Lopez, and with other universities to produce the most complete findings,” he said. Moreover, he is developing interactive exhibits on electricity generation for visiting K-12 students at CSULB’s Science Learning Center.