Dillon receives CAREER Award to study light-absorbing photocatalysts

7/2/2013 2:59:00 PM

Efficiently converting sunlight and water into hydrogen—through a process called “photolysis”—is an attractive approach to producing “green” fuels that could support the future U.S. economy. Shen Dillon, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, has recently received a National Science Foundation CAREER Award to provide an improved scientific basis for designing efficient and inexpensive nanostructured visible light absorbing photocatalysts.

Shen Dillon
Shen Dillon
“A variety of catalysts have been known to perform photolysis for several decades, but many remain too inefficient or expensive for commercial application,” explained Dillon, whose long-term research vision includes developing fundamental science underpinning ceramic-based energy storage and conversion systems.

Photocatalysts may be improved most effectively by controlling their electronic structure, which depends on variables such as particle size, shape, chemistry, defect structure, or their interactions with adjoining materials.

A schematic of the experimental apparatus used for in-situ photocatalysis.
A schematic of the experimental apparatus used for in-situ photocatalysis.
“Our approach seeks to characterize structure-properties-performance relationships for individual photocatalytic oxide heterojunction nanostructures as a function of scale,” Dillon added. The study is enabled by the development of macroscopically supported geometrically defined single heterojunction nanowires and quantitative in-situ photocatalysis in the transmission electron microscope (TEM).

According to Dillon, the project also incorporates a significant educational component.

“The activity integrates research and education through a research experience for science education majors (RESEM) program that will impact K-12 students through improved teacher experience and education. Two teachers will participate each year throughout the five-year project. Special emphasis will be placed on research experience for undergraduates (REU) during the academic semesters and developing research-based teaching methods for undergraduates. 

Dillon earned his PhD in materials science and engineering from Lehigh University. Following his graduation in 2007, he went to work as a research associate at Carnegie Mellon University, as a visiting professor at Lehigh University, and a visiting scientist at MIT. He joined the Illinois faculty in 2009, and he received a Department of Energy Early Career Award in 2011.

Contact: Shen Dillon, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, 217/244-5622.

If you have any questions about the College of Engineering, or other story ideas, contact Rick Kubetz, writer/editor, Engineering Communications Office, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 217/244-7716.