Columbia University Center to Study Solar Cells

Columbia University will become home to one of 46 new Energy Frontier Research Centers announced by the White House recently. The new centers, which will pursue advanced scientific research on energy, are being established by the U.S. Department of Energy at universities, national laboratories, nonprofit organizations, and private firms across the nation. The Columbia-led center—one of 16 to be funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—will focus on the scientific and engineering basics necessary to achieve cost-effective and efficient solar cell systems. Up to $16 million in federal funding is planned.

New York Gov. David A. Paterson has promised to match a significant portion of the funds. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) will contribute $250,000, and the New York State Foundation for Science, Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR) has offered access to the supercomputers at the Brookhaven National Laboratory and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Steven Chu, U.S. secretary of energy, said, "These centers will mobilize the enormous talents and skills of our nation's scientific workforce in pursuit of the breakthroughs that are essential to make alternative and renewable energy truly viable as large-scale replacements for fossil fuels."

Columbia's interdisciplinary team will be led by Louis Brus, the Samuel Latham Mitchell Professor of Chemistry, professor of chemical engineering and recent winner of the Kavli Prize, and Tony Heinz, the David M. Rickey Professor of Optical Communications in the faculty of engineering and applied science, and professor of physics. James Yardley, senior research scientist in the department of electrical engineering, will serve as managing director.

"This Department of Energy award will enable Columbia to build on our understanding of nano-particles to examine new ways to extract solar energy more efficiently," said David Hirsh, Columbia's executive vice president for research."

The Columbia research team, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Minnesota, the University of Arkansas, and Purdue University, expects to accelerate the capture and use of solar energy. This program will operate in concert with Columbia's Earth and environmental engineering department and its newly formed Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy.

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