BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Novel, self-assembly techniques for fabricating
inorganic nanomaterials that could pave the way for more efficient
and powerful solar cells, chemical sensors and detectors currently
are being developed by a University at Buffalo chemist.
David F. Watson, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department
of Chemistry in the University at Buffalo's College of Arts and
Sciences, has been awarded a prestigious National Science
Foundation CAREER Award to conduct the research.
According to the NSF, the CAREER program recognizes and supports
the early career-development activities of teacher-scholars "who
are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st
The research component of the grant involves a new approach to
photochemistry, chemical reactions involving light, while the
educational component will introduce students in the Buffalo Public
Schools from underrepresented groups, including Native Americans,
to principles of materials chemistry and scientific research
through hands-on science activities.
The grant, which provides $576,100 over five years, will allow
Watson and colleagues to conduct research aimed at better
controlling the electron transfer reactivity of self-assembled
In particular, Watson's group is studying and characterizing
photo-induced surface electron transfer reactions occurring within
self-assembled inorganic nanomaterials, the reactions that drive
solar cells and photocatalysts. The scientists will continue work
on a self-assembly technique Watson developed for attaching quantum
dots, tiny light-absorbing particles, to metal oxide films.
Using time-resolved spectroscopy, the researchers are able to
probe systematically how composition, morphology and physical
properties of the materials affect the kinetics and efficiency of
electron transfer processes.
The researchers also will study how to improve the targeted
patterning of nanoparticles onto metal oxide surfaces.
"This photochemical patterning strategy addresses one of the
significant challenges in nanofabrication, to control both
short-range and long-range order in nanostructured materials," said
Short-range order refers to the organization of molecules and
materials on the nanometer scale, while long-range order involves
pattern formation on larger, even macroscopic, dimensions.
Watson's approach combines the "top-down" and "bottom-up"
methods of fabricating nanomaterials into a hybrid technique, in
which photochemical reactions are used to organize nanoparticles on
Substrates with high surface areas, he explained, allow for
optically dense patterns and more efficient light harvesting,
thereby potentially increasing the efficiency of solar cells and
"Because our surface substrate is the photochemically active
component, our approach also might enable more widely applicable
patterning techiques," he said.
Watson's grant also will provide summer research internships to
students at various high schools in Buffalo through collaborations
with faculty in the departments of chemistry and physics in the UB
College of Arts and Sciences and in the departments of chemical and
biological engineering and electrical engineering in the UB School
of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
The educational program builds on the extensive partnership that
exists between UB's Department of Chemistry and Buffalo Public
School 19, a Native American magnet school for middle school
Also with the support of the CAREER award, Watson is designing a
"writing-intensive" course for advanced undergraduates and graduate
students in the Department of Chemistry that will address one of
his key educational concerns.
"Chemistry majors typically don't do a lot of writing during
their undergraduate or graduate careers, but it's a huge part of
what we do as scientists," he said. "The idea is to get the
students used to doing a lot of writing and to write mock reviews
and critique each others' work."
Watson lives in Williamsville.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive
public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the
State University of New York.