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August 20, 2013
By Abbie Walker
When Mario Alpuche sat in on his chemistry classes in college and had professors that proffered individual thinking, learning and fun experiments, he knew that chemistry was in his future. Now, after a doctorate degree and four years as assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Nevada, Reno, he has a $650,000 National Science Foundation CAREER award to showcase his hard work in electrochemistry.
The award is titled "Chemistry CAREER: Electron-Transfer Kinetics of Individual Semiconductor Nanoparticles."
"It is a great honor for me to receive this prestigious award, as it recognizes the potential impact that our research in the area of electrochemistry can have on emerging applications in solar energy conversion," Alpuche said.
Alpuche's main focus in electrochemistry is to study the relationship between electricity and chemical reactions at a fundamental level. He and his team use electrochemistry to research the general rules that control chemical reactions.
"If we think about the example of batteries, we use electricity to drive chemical reactions when we charge a battery, but when we discharge the battery, we use the chemical energy stored in the battery to produce electricity," Alpuche said. "So, when one looks at what makes these devices work, the chemical reactions are very important."
Alpuche thinks similar reactions will be used one day to make electricity out of solar energy using affordable semiconducting materials that will perform the electrochemical reactions. This could make solar energy conversion widely available.
The main goal of this proposal Alpuche says, is to understand the electrochemical properties of semiconducting nanoparticles, that is, particles with only a few nanometers in diameter. These particles are promising for energy conversion because they perform reactions that convert light into electrical energy or light into chemical substances like hydrogen that can be used to produce energy.
"I realized that the science behind electrochemical processes is complicated but when we can control electrochemical reactions, they can be put to use in many common daily applications - from corrosion protection to the batteries that start our cars or power our mobile devices," Alpuche said.
Sean Casey, Department of Chemistry chair, is pleased with the work Alpuche has done for both the department and electrochemistry. Casey sees a bright future for Alpuche and is proud to see Alpuche receive recognition for his work.
"I think I speak for the whole department when I say that we are very excited by Mario's award," Casey said. "These are highly competitive awards and it is gratifying to see the NSF recognize the potential of Alpuche's research in the area of photoelectrochemistry on the nanoscale, as well as his work in outreach to and recruitment of underrepresented minorities to future careers in the sciences. His award continues the strong tradition that our department has had with NSF CAREER funding, and we are extremely pleased that Alpuche has been able to add to that tradition."
Abbie Walker is a graduate student writer for the Communications Office.