Matthew Sheldon, assistant professor of chemistry at Texas A&M University, has been named a Moore Inventor Fellow by the California-based Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in recognition of early-career scientist-innovators with high potential to accelerate progress in scientific research, environmental conservation and patient care.
Sheldon, who joined the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry faculty in 2014 and also is an affiliated faculty member in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, will receive $825,000 over three years, including $50,000 per year from Texas A&M, to fund the development of new types of optical structures for improving conversion efficiency in solar cells — technology capable of providing cost-effective global energy solutions for growing economies throughout the world.
The Moore Foundation was co-founded in 2000 by Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel whose purpose and drive provided part of the deep history of science and invention at the core of Silicon Valley. In this same spirit, the Moore Inventor Fellows program seeks to support early-career scientist-inventors who are working on unique and groundbreaking projects by giving them the freedom and support they need to do their work while helping to nurture them on their journey.
“Embodying Gordon Moore’s passion for science and penchant for inventing, the Moore Inventor Fellows are problem-solvers seeking to develop new tools and technologies that will accelerate progress in scientific research, environmental conservation and patient care, three areas of interest to our foundation,” said Moore Foundation President Harvey V. Fineberg, M.D., Ph.D. “These young inventors show great promise for creating positive outcomes for generations to come.”
Sheldon is one of five 2017 Moore Inventor Fellows who will be recognized in an event this evening (Nov. 7) at The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, Calif. The event, set to include a panel discussion as well as brief research presentations from all five honorees, will highlight the importance of invention and empowering early-career scientists inside and outside the academic setting.
For his part, Sheldon’s three-year strategy toward a major solar efficiency breakthrough hinges on new classes of nanomaterials and his laboratory’s proven expertise in providing precise control over how light energy moves through optical devices. His goal is to use his invention — a thin-film nanophotonic rectifier, or one-way mirror at the nanoscale level — to greatly improve the conversion efficiency of solar cells and help make cheap and sustainable solar energy available worldwide.
“Abundant, low-cost energy is required for universal prosperity,” Sheldon said. “Solar circumvents a multitude of challenges within our current energy infrastructure, especially in the developing world. Thanks to the Moore Foundation in tandem with Texas A&M University, we have an unprecedented opportunity to bring about a dramatic shift in cost structure, based on technology that can be used with pre-existing as well as future solar cells.”
Sheldon says his technique is designed to stop light from leaving the solar cell — the primary culprit behind low efficiency in conventional models. By applying a thin-film “decal” or nanophotonic rectifier composed of ordered arrays of nanocrystals with tailored optical behavior as the top of the cell in concept testing, his lab has been able to outline a strategy for unprecedented performance — 95 percent efficiency, compared to 29 percent for the current world- leading solar cell. Their prototype, which replaces conventional optics with nanostructured films, circumvents thermodynamic limits and is compatible with industry-scale processing. Furthermore, because it is backwards and forward-compatible with most solar technology, it doesn’t require a new kind of solar cell.
“Similar industrial-scale device fabrication with nancrystals already has been achieved for QLED [quantum-dot light-emitting diode] displays,” Sheldon added. “In addition to excellent environmental stability, our modeling indicates high tolerance to in-film disorder and other losses.”
One year ago, the Moore Foundation unveiled the first five of what eventually will be 50 Moore Inventor Fellows — early-career scientist-inventor-problem-solvers with a passion for inventing and the potential to make a real and positive difference with their ideas. All totaled, the Moore Foundation plans to allocate nearly $34 million through 2026 in support of Sheldon and the other 49 Moore Inventor Fellows.
The 2017 competition was open to early-career staff at major research universities, in addition to select medical and environmental research institutions. Sheldon’s was one of more than 200 applications received from 111 institutions. As one of 10 finalists, he traveled to Palo Alto in June to deliver an in-person presentation on his idea, receiving notification a few days later that he had been selected as one of this year’s Moore Inventor Fellows.
“Our foundation provides these early-career researchers with time and freedom to develop ideas that will make a positive difference,” said Moore Foundation Chief Program Officer of Science Robert Kirshner, Ph.D. “Nurturing these scientist-inventors within universities and providing them a glimpse of the outside world will help their ideas have a real impact.”
Sheldon earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California-Berkeley in 2010 and was a postdoctoral fellow in applied physics at the California Institute of Technology prior to coming to Texas A&M, where his research centers on the use of nanomaterials for solar energy and related opportunities at the intersection of materials science, chemistry and nanophotonics.
Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Dr. Matthew Sheldon, (979) 862-3101 or email@example.com.
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