Faculty News

What Chemists Do

kumarDr. Challa V. Kumar’s research focuses on biological materials, materials that are both functional and biogradable. In this ACS “What Chemists Do” video profile, Dr. Kumar discusses the properties of a light-harvesting antenna that is more efficient than existing solar cell panels. Video>>>

Dr. Mark Peczuh Receieves Provost’s Teaching Innovation Mini Grant Competition Award

PeczuhDr. Mark Peczuh received a grant for the following proposal:

Title: “Don’t Flip Out – It’s Just Organic Chemistry”
Summary: In the project we will develop a version of second semester organic chemistry that is flipped. Lecture content will be delivered online and meeting times will be dedicated to problem solving and group work in a large enrollment course. We’re also supplementing that group work with weekly recitations led by undergraduate peer-leaders.

Boosting The Efficiency of Solar Panels

KumarDr. C. Vijay Kumar is the focus of a recent UConn Today article highlighting his research to improve the efficiency of solar panels. Dr. Kumar has developed a light-harvesting antenna that could double the efficiency of existing solar cell panels and make them cheaper to build.

UConn Today

A UConn researcher has developed a light-harvesting antenna that could double the efficiency of existing solar cell panels and make them cheaper to build.

Professor Challa V. Kumar, who holds appointments in the departments of Chemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology, and the Institute of Materials Science, and his team have created a gel that enhances the ability of solar cells to absorb energy from sunlight.

Sunlight strikes Earth every day with more energy than is used globally in a year. But finding an efficient way to capture and store solar energy to replace fossil fuels as the world’s go-to energy source remains a challenge.

“Most of the light from the sun is emitted over a very broad window of wavelengths,” says Kumar, who recently presented his work at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Boston. “If you want to use solar energy to produce electric current, you want to harvest as much of that spectrum as possible.”

Silicon photovoltaic solar cells, the most common type currently used on rooftop panels to convert photons – tiny particles of light – into electricity, can’t take advantage of the blue part of the light spectrum. Only photons with the right amount of energy get absorbed by the photovoltaic cell.

The antenna built by Kumar and his team, collects unused blue photons in the light spectrum and, via a process of “artificial photosynthesis,” converts them to lower energy photons that the silicon can then turn into current, Kumar explains.

Taking inspiration from plants, the team used a mixture of biodegradable materials to collect sunlight, much like plant chlorophyll. The concoction includes cow blood protein (a waste product in the meat industry), fatty acid from coconuts, and different organic dyes.

Together these substances form a gel that, when placed in a Gratzel cell, a particular type of solar cell, increases their absorption of unused photons and the power output of the cell.

“This process is great for coating solar cells’ light-emitting diodes, which mostly emit in the blue region,” Kumar says. “Our vision is to integrate this technology into the manufacturing process of solar panels, which cost homeowners thousands of dollars, to make them more affordable and efficient.

Kumar says that many groups around the world are working to make this kind of antenna, but claims his is the first of its kind.

He says the gel is easy to make and relatively inexpensive, but the mixture needs to be stable and tough enough to last multiple years to be incorporated into existing manufacturing techniques.

The University has filed a provisional patent application, and Kumar is working with a Connecticut company to figure out how to apply the gel to silicon solar cells.

Suib & He Group Research Highlighted on Chemistry of Materials Cover

Chemistry of Materials coverA paper entitled “Colloidal Amphiphile-Templated Growth of Highly Crystalline Mesoporous Nonsiliceous Oxides” from the Suib and He groups (Chem. Mater. 2015, 27, 6173–6176) was featured on the front cover of Chemistry of Materials. They highlighted the utilization of polymer-tethered silica nanoparticles for the preparation of thermally stable and highly crystalline mesoporous transition-metal oxides with uniform large pores. The colloidal amphiphile-templating method combines advantages of soft- and hard-templating methods and allows the as-made amorphous oxides to be directly crystallized by calcination under air while retaining their ordered mesostructures.

Read more

Novel “Green” Antenna Could Double Solar Efficiency

solar panels
Solar panels could get a major efficiency boost from a thin-film antenna made of proteins, lipids and organic dyes.
Credit: TodorovNikifor/iStock/Thinkstock

The Kumar Group and He Group have reportedly developed a unique “green” antenna that could potentially double the efficiencies of certain kinds of solar cells.

Efficient solar cells maximize the absorption of the sun’s wavelengths. However, current silicon solar cells are not efficient in the blue part of the light spectrum. In response, Kumar’s team built an antenna that collects unused blue photons and then convents them to lower energy photons that the silicon can then turn into current. The product is both more compostable and affordable than silicon solar cells. This antenna is the first of its kind in the world.

Dr. Kumar presented his team’s results at ACS Boston (video). Their work was featured in ECN Magazine, CleanTechnology News, and Energy Business Review, amongst others.

New Peanut Allergy Test Goes Beyond Scratching the Surface

UConn Today

PeanutsCurrent peanut allergy tests are not very reliable when it comes to diagnosing the severity of an individual’s allergic reaction, which can range from hives to life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

With an estimated three million people in the United States allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, having a more precise and reliable allergy test could prevent hospitalizations and allow for better monitoring of individuals suffering from peanut allergies.

Three chemists at the University of Connecticut (UConn) are developing a more advanced peanut allergy test that, based on initial results, is many times more sensitive than current procedures. The new test is capable of determining the potential intensity of a patient’s allergic reaction through just a few drops of blood. Continue reading