Prof. Meredith Silberstein, mechanical and aerospace engineering, is one of 84 recipients across the nation to receive a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Early Career Research Program. The grant will help fund her work in electrical fields, which she calls “a new research area,” over the course of five years.
According to the program’s website, the Department of Energy’s Early Career Research Program has supported the “development of individual research programs of outstanding scientists early in their careers” for nine years.
Silberstein said she was grateful for the funding, and shared her excitement of being able to research a brand-new way of thinking about material design. Before beginning their research, Silberstein and her team pored through existing literature and did not find anyone conducting the same work on polymers.
“For this grant, we are going to look at whether you can manipulate the mechanical properties of polymer membranes of electric fields,” Silberstein said. “We are interested in this because these membranes are used in electrical technology like battery and field cells, so they should be designed smarter [to be able to] modify their properties when the electrical field in these different systems changes.”
The grant, which will start in September plays a significant role in helping make exploration into the new field possible, according to Silberstein.
“We have been working on polymers but we have not been working on electric fields, and we don’t really have the equipment to do it or the ability to pay for a postdoc to work on it,” she said. This funding is central to furthering this novel research, she explained, adding, “I really couldn’t be working on this project without the grant.”
Silberstein applied for the grant in part because it was the one that best supported her research and career.
“We expect that our work will lead to the design of membranes that respond productively — for instance, by strengthening or healing — to the dynamically varying electrical field environments inherent to batteries and fuel cells,” Silberstein told the University.
Before officially getting the new project going in September, Silberstein said there is still a lot of set up that needs to be done. Nonetheless, looking ahead, she is excited and optimistic about the new research opportunity.
“Hopefully, we do well, and find more interesting related areas to explore, and get more funding.”