Awards Database

Cottrell Scholar Awards - 2017

James R. Neilson

Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Colorado State University

Materials Design Principles for Effective Light-Induced Charge Separation in Revolutionary Photovoltaics

In the world of photovoltaics – the direct conversion of sunlight to electricity – there is no more exciting material than perovskite. These materials, such as CH3NH3PbI3, have made a giant leap in photovoltaic device efficiency, which initially started at 3.8 percent conversion efficiency of light to electricity in 2009 to 22.1 percent in 2016. These materials, perovskites, are named after an analogous earth-abundant mineral (CaTiO3) discovered in the Ural Mountains in 1839 and named for a Russian mineralogist. 

James R. Neilson, chemistry, Colorado State University, has received a Cottrell Scholar Award from Research Corporation for Science Advancement to study why perovskite-based materials are so effective for turning light into separated charges. (Photoinduced charge separation is the process by which an electron in an atom or molecule is excited to a higher level by the absorption of a photon, potentially leaving the atom or molecule. It is the first step in the creation of an electric current.)

Neilson will synthesize various perovskite compounds to test the hypothesis that the effectiveness of the mineral is due to “lone-pair compatible electronic states.” In chemistry, a “lone pair” refers to a pair of electrons in the outermost, or “valence,” shell of an atom and, in addition, these electrons are not shared, or bonded, with another atom.

If successful, his work could lead to even greater efficiencies in photovoltaics.

There is also an education component to the Cottrell Scholar Award. Neilson will use some of the funding to create a new freshman seminar at CSU in the form of a solar energy collection competition using devices made and studied by the participating students. The proposed activities will combine many high-impact educational practices, including first-year seminar, learning community, collaborative projects and undergraduate research.


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