Tina Gao and Eliza Cohn have recently been awarded the Provost’s Undergraduate Research Award (PURA). The PURA is open to undergraduates from any division working with a mentor in any JHU division, center, or institute. Undergraduates can perform independent research, create a design, foster their entrepreneurship, or focus on scholarly and creative projects over the academic year with the help of a $3000 fellowship.

Tina Gao, a member of assistant professor Susanna Thon’s NanoEnergy Laboratory, was awarded the PURA for her project that focuses on building new photocatalytic materials. Photocatalysts absorb light and transfer that energy into chemical reactions; the utilization of photocatalysts is important in clean energy production and pollution treatment, such as detoxifying wastewater. However, traditional photocatalysts are only activated under ultraviolet light, creating problems for solar energy harvesting. Because of its non-toxicity and abundance on earth, Al has a large potential to be a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional plasmonic materials for photocatalysis such as gold or silver. For this project, they will optimize both the optical and electronic properties of new aluminum-titanium dioxide-based photocatalysts.

Eliza Cohn, a member of assistant professor Enrique Mallada’s lab, was also awarded the PURA for her project that focuses on eliminating the technical difficulties associated with integrating renewable energy resources into the national power grid. The national power grid is currently dominated by synchronous generators, processing fossil fuels. As the nation seeks to decrease its dependence on fossil fuel burning factories in favor of renewables (primarily solar cells and wind turbines), the stability of the grid can no longer be guaranteed. This can lead to operational failures and power outages. To mitigate this, Eliza is designing a battery based controller that senses and responds to the status of the grid to preserve the network’s equilibrium.