Research Interests

Physics Education Research, Computation in K12 Physics

I am interested in exploring the implementation of computers and technology for students learning physics. Computation unlocks a new realm of visualization techniques, computational thinking practices, and data understanding that are important for numerous disciplines. Specifically, I focus on the high school physics classroom and how simulations may enhance accessibility, comprehension, and attitudes toward course content. As a part of a National Science Foundation funded grant, we are “Integrating Computational Science Across Michigan” by administering teacher professional development, student assessment, and equitable participation research.

Materials Science, Thermoelectrics

Energy_2016_United-States

In 2016, the United States consumed 97.3 Quads (1 quadrillion=10^15 BTUs) of energy from various energy sources including fossil fuels, nuclear, and alternative energy. This energy is consumed by electricity generation, residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation needs. Ultimately, a significant portion (about 2/3) of the energy consumed in these sectors is lost as rejected energy.

Rejected energy, or waste heat, is an unavoidable consequence of the second law of thermodynamics which states that there will also be some amount of entropy arising from any physical interaction. This entropy essentially means that no transformative process (like in the case for energy usage) will ever be perfectly efficient. Some energy will be lost somewhere in the process, making it so that the process can never been perfectly reversible.

Examples of this are rampant in our daily lives. All cars, buses, planes, and other forms of transportation require some fuel to be consumed. In the case of a car, gasoline is burned to provide energy to your engine, but in this process, the engine will get hot and not all of the energy from the gasoline will be put towards doing useful work. The typical internal combustion engine can be anywhere from 25% to 50% efficient, with the energy losses being given off as heat (which is why you need a radiator to maintain proper engine temperature). Another example is in factories and power plants where cooling towers use water evaporation to remove excess heat, and then the steam is released to the surroundings. Even in human beings, not all of the fuel (food) that we consume is used by our body to do work, and some of it is lost to the environment as heat. Waste heat is prevalent in all levels of society.

Thermoelectric (TE) materials could be a solution to improving energy efficiency as our society moves toward a more sustainable energy landscape. TEs are semiconducting materials capable of converting heat to electricity by a solid-state mechanism known as the Seebeck effect. This effect is somewhat similar to that in solar devices, only instead of converting light to electricity, TEs covert heat to electricity. This is useful for power generation applications because we could use a thermoelectric generator to recapture energy that would otherwise be lost as waste heat. Contrastingly, TEs may also utilize electricity to control the temperature of an object by the Peltier effect, and this has applications in solid-state cooling devices.

TE
General schematic for a thermoelectric unicouple composed of p-type and n-type semiconducting materials. The thermoelectric legs are aligned electrically in series and thermally in parallel.

Nanomaterial Synthesis

By structuring materials on the nanoscale, scientists can enable an entirely new realm of possibilities that would otherwise be impossible. Previously, I worked at Ames lab and Iowa State in the Cademartiri research lab where I synthesized a range of inorganic nanostructured materials including bismuth sulfide nanowires, gold nanoparticles and nanorods, silicon dioxide and metal oxide nanoparticles, and other nanomaterial systems. Recently, I have been investigating the use of a solution-based chemical synthesis technique (the modified polyol method) to synthesize nanostructured chalcogenide thermoelectric materials.