February 28, 2018 | Two professors receive Special Creativity Award from National Science Foundation

Matthew Chin | February 28, 2018

Yu Huang(Image courtesy of UCLA)

This article was originally published by the UCLA Newsroom

A rarely given Special Creativity Award from the National Science Foundation has been recently bestowed to a pair of UCLA faculty members, along with a leading computer simulation expert at the University of Colorado Boulder, to continue their research on metal alloys for fuel cells.

The principal investigators on the grant are Jianwei “John” Miao, UCLA professor of physics and astronomy and also the deputy director, NSF STROBE Science and Technology Center; Yu Huang, UCLA professor of materials science and engineering; and Hendrik Heinz, an associate professor of chemical and biological engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder.  Huang and Miao are also members of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA.

The Special Creativity award extends additional funding for an initial research project that is deemed particularly promising.

Jianwei “John” Miao (Image credit: Reed Hutchinson/UCLA)

The research team has successfully synthesized new metal alloys, described their properties and atomic-scale architecture, and modeled how they catalyze chemical reactions important for fuel cells. Fuel cells have shown great promise as a clean energy technology, with numerous applications including zero-emission vehicles. The fuel cells work by causing hydrogen fuel and oxygen from the air to react to produce electricity, and the exhaust they create is water — rather than the pollutants and greenhouse gases emitted by traditional car engines.

One of those processes is an oxygen reduction reaction, which has typically used platinum as its catalyst. But the high cost of platinum, which is used as a catalyst in fuel cells, has been a major factor in hindering their wider adoption.

The objective of such special creativity awards is to offer the most creative investigators an extended opportunity to attack adventurous, “high-risk” opportunities in the same general research area, but not necessarily covered by the original proposal. This award will allow the team to develop a cheaper alloy catalyst.