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Clean Energy Institute
College students work with researchers as part of the UW Clean Energy Institute’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program. (UW Clean Energy Institute Photo / Matt Hagen)

The University of Washington has received a $15.6 million, six-year grant from the National Science Foundation to fund its Molecular Engineering Materials Center and take on “moonshots” that could lead to cleaner energy, advanced light-based electronics and quantum computing.

The grant was awarded as part of the NSF’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Center program, or MRSEC. Funding was provided to continue work at six MRSEC centers and start up three more centers, including UW’s.

UW’s center brings together an initial team of 15 faculty members, including researchers who work at the university’s Clean Energy Institute and Molecular Engineering and Sciences Institute.

The first targets for research are nanocrystals, quantum dots and thin films. Those technologies could produce solar-concentrating window coverings to boost photovoltaic cells for energy conversion, as well as ultra-thin semiconductors for energy generation, optoelectronics and exotic computing applications.

“We chose nanocrystals and ultra-think semiconductors because they promise to yield basic, fundamental and impactful discoveries in materials science,” UW chemistry professor Daniel Gamelin, the new center’s director, said today in a news release. “And those advances will fuel new innovations and applications in growing industries — from quantum computing to clean energy.”

The NSF grant will be used to pursue moonshot research projects that have a high potential payoff but are beyond the reach of smaller research grants. It will also fund cross-disciplinary training and mentorship programs at the UW and at partner organizations such as the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Other goals for the grant include broadening educational and research opportunities for UW students and researchers, and expanding outreach to veterans as well as to high school students from underrepresented minorities.

UW says the center will make use of existing research and education space across the Seattle campus, including the Molecular Engineering and Sciences Building. The Clean Energy Institute and the Molecular Engineering and Sciences Institute, both of which are headquartered in that building, will provide access to equipment for research and training.

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