Organic Chemistry Researcher Wins NSF CAREER Award

Exploring New Directions in Photonic Materials Science

May 1, 2018

Using the tools of synthetic organic chemistry, computational modeling, advanced spectroscopy, and X-ray diffraction crystallography, Jean-Luc Ayitou, assistant professor of chemistry, is developing new molecular systems that can help to improve the efficiency of current photovoltaic devices that are used to convert sunlight into electricity.

Ayitou is a 2018 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award winner and received a grant totaling $650,000 for five years for his research. He and his team hope to exploit the outstanding photophysical properties of the proposed organic light-harvesting systems to devise next-generation organic photonic materials. These novel materials can possibly engineer not only high-efficiency photovoltaic devices, but also materials for biological imaging, among other applications.

As part of this project, Ayitou has started an outreach program in an effort to promote diversity and a better understanding of socio-cultural relevance of the chemical sciences and other STEM disciplines. The program, VISCUS (Vivifying Scientific Curiosity for Underrepresented Undergraduate Students), will allow him to mentor and provide training for students who will participate in the proposed research. Additional educational components of the research include outreach activities that promote STEM education at Illinois Tech and in the South Side communities of Chicago. The students involved in VISCUS are expected to serve as ambassadors for STEM research in their respective communities.

“The support from the NSF Early CAREER Award will help my team and I explore and understand the unknown frontier of science,” says Ayitou. “In the context of the proposed research, we hope to establish new paradigms that can be useful in resolving contemporary and societal issues such as clean energy and sustainability.”

The NSF CAREER Awards honor early career-development activities of teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate research and education within the context of the missions of their organizations. Such activities should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of integrated contributions to research and education.

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