UNK Chemistry Department Receives Nebraska Research Initiative Grant

Dr. Chris Exstrom
professor of chemistry, 308-865-8565, exstromc@unk.edu

The University of Nebraska at Kearney Chemistry Department was awarded a grant for $303,255 over the next four years from the Nebraska Research Initiative for a project entitled “A Multicampus Renewable Energy Laboratory of Excellence”. The faculty researchers are Drs. Christopher Exstrom and Scott Darveau of UNK and Rod Soukup and Natale Ianno of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln’s Department of Electrical Engineering.

“In this project, we are conducting research on an economical and safe method for producing solar energy cell films made from silicon, which is the second most common element on Earth, and silicon-germanium alloys. Rod Soukup and Natale Ianno of UNL have developed a new method, called a hollow cathode sputtering technique, of making these films without using the hazardous gases silane and germane that solar cell industries currently use in making their films,” said Chemistry department chair Dr. Christopher Exstrom. “At UNK, we will analyze the chemical structure and optical properties of the films. Our goal is to uncover the production conditions and film properties that will lead to the highest efficiency in sunlight conversion to electric energy. An important consideration for funding was the potential for this project to enhance economic growth in Nebraska and the surrounding region for the solar cell production industry.”

This grant will provide the UNK Chemistry Department with new equipment including an ellipsometer, surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy equipment, and infrared spectroscopy accessories; undergraduate research wages; and faculty summer research salaries. UNK students currently working on the project are Anthony Fitch of Omaha, Caleb Laue of Odessa, Scott Meisenbach of Minden, and Vernon Volpe, Jr. of Kearney.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunities that this grant will provide our students, faculty, and department,” said Exstrom. “The grant will increase involvement of our undergraduates in chemistry research with faculty members. The new equipment will enable the UNK Chemistry Department to contribute to solar energy development research on a long-term basis, while at the same time, we will utilize the equipment to advance our teaching capabilities in upper-division laboratory courses,” said Exstrom. “The project also establishes a UNK-UNL intercampus connection that could help provide opportunities for UNK Chemistry graduates in UNL Engineering graduate programs,” Exstrom concluded.