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UNI receives NSF grant for experimental research on thin-film materials

July 29, 2014

Andy Stollenwerk, principal investigator and assistant professor, physics, 319-273-7129,

Lindsay Cunningham, Office of University Relations, 319-273-6728,

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- A team of University of Northern Iowa faculty members has received a $250,000 award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to pursue experimental research on thin-film materials. The principal investigator for the project is Andrew Stollenwerk, with Rui He, both assistant professors in physics and Tim Kidd, associate professor in physics, as co-investigators. The materials to be investigated have a structure consisting of well-defined layers of atoms. Such layered systems are currently the subject of intense research for possible applications in computer electronics, solar cells, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and a wide variety of sensors.

The UNI team will use a variety of experimental techniques to study the basic electronic and optical properties of very thin sheets of these materials, consisting of only a few layers of atoms. Because the fabrication of the materials and all the experiments will be performed on the UNI campus, undergraduate students in physics and other STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields will be involved in all aspects of the research. High school students and teachers will also be given opportunities to participate in research activities in order to stimulate interest in STEM research and careers.

Stollenwerk arrived at UNI in 2009 after completing postdoctoral work at Harvard University. His lab houses a scanning tunneling microscope, which he uses to study the electronic properties of surfaces at the scale of single atoms. Stollenwerk said, "This project serves to better understand the electronic and optical properties of thin sheets of layered materials. Our multidisciplinary approach will obtain a more complete picture of how these materials might be used for applications. The project will involve undergraduate students trained on a wide variety of techniques that involve electronics, optics and chemistry."

The duration of the award is three years. This is the latest of several competitive NSF grants garnered by UNI physics department faculty members over the past five years to support research activities and the acquisition of cutting-edge laboratory equipment.