Susanna Thon Receives NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award

February 12, 2019

Susanna Thon, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has been selected by the National Science Foundation for its prestigious CAREER Award, which recognizes early stage scholars with high levels of promise and excellence.

Using the $500,000, five-year award, Thon and her team will artificially adjust the color of natural materials on a nanometer scale to enable them to absorb only invisible infrared light, allowing them to be used for new applications, such as solar cells and light sensors.

“The basic thrust of the project is, we came up with a new way to control the color of materials,” Thon said. “We drill periodic arrays of air holes into the absorbing materials called ‘photonic crystals’, and that changes how the materials absorb light. This is a way to perform ‘color tuning,’ so it is essentially a new strategy for controlling the color in these materials.”

Thon believes that these solar cells and light sensors could eventually help create a more efficient, usable, and cost-effective way of generating solar energy. She envisions a day when the cells and sensors could be made into paints that could be used on the exteriors of homes and other buildings to capture the sun’s energy, providing heating and cooling and powering appliances inside.

She predicts that much of the work on this project will focus on achieving the level of color tuning control needed to obtain optimal results—a challenge that she feels certain that she and her excellent team at Johns Hopkins can meet.

“Having great students is the most important factor for this project in terms of research and getting results. Being at Johns Hopkins means I have that ability to attract the best minds possible to work with me,” Thon said. “Other great parts about working here are the other faculty that I get to collaborate with and the facilities. Johns Hopkins renovated my lab when I got here for humidity and temperature control, which is extremely important for processing these sensitive materials. Being at Johns Hopkins has provided me with a great environment to enable this work, and to get it done.”

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