Research area: Photoelectrochemistry
Research group: Dr. Charles “Buddie” Mullins
My role and tasks in the lab: My role includes growing thin film of several micron thick with photo-catalytic activity, and characterizing films by scanning electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction and ultraviolet-visible spectroscopy. The goal is finding cheap, abundant, inorganic materials as photocatalysts to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Our current interests is TiO2 (titanium dioxide) as photo-anodes.
How my research will benefit society: As fossil fuels on earth are running out, people are looking for sustainable, clean energy sources. Hydrogen could be used as a fuel to power engines as an alternative energy source. Currently, the dominant technology for direct hydrogen production is steam reforming from hydrocarbons, which is not a clean process and depends on fossil fuels. Our research focuses on harvesting the energy from sunlight by semiconductors and splitting water into two nontoxic gases: H2 and O2.
How I plan to use this experience in my career: My goal as an undergraduate researcher is to prepare myself for graduate school. I plan to go to graduate school and teach at university level. Working in Dr. Mullins’ lab provides me the opportunity to explore my capability as a researcher and my personal interests in research.
The most memorable breakthrough in my research group: The most memorable breakthrough is when my colleague, Son Hoang, and I successfully modified hydrothemal synthesis of TiO2 nanowires and increased the aspect ratio of the nanowires by more than five times! As the photocatalytic activity of the material strongly depends on the surface area, this achievement is very important.
My advice to students who plan to do research: My advice to students would be to be active. Work closely with a graduate student to learn a lot. At the same time, do some things on your own so you can grow to be a real researcher. I didn’t grasp the difficulty of doing research until I started to set up my own experiments. My adviser Dr. Mullins once told me that research progress consists of staggering from one failure to the next with undiminished enthusiasm. No one can really become a researcher without working on their own and some trial and error.