University of Utah electrical and computer engineering assistant professor Weilu Gao has joined a multi-institute, $1.5 million Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) grant from the National Science Foundation. Gao has been awarded this grant alongside a team of researchers headed by assistant professor Geoffrey Wehmeyer of Rice University.

PIRE is a unique program that connects U.S.-based and international researchers to collaborate on a given topic. The project that this grant will support is called JUNCTION: Japan-U.S. Network for Clean Energy Technologies Involving Oriented Nanotubes. The goal of this program and specific grant is to build partnerships between Japan-based and U.S.-based researchers who are investigating the potential of oriented carbon nanotubes as they relate to clean energy.

“The technique we are using in this research deals with carbon nanotubes. We propose to use one special form of nanotubes called oriented nanotubes, which means all the nanotubes are along the same directions, giving them extraordinary electronic, photonic, and thermal properties,” said Gao. “For me particularly, I have proposed two energy harvesting devices that use the photonic properties of these carbon nanotubes.”

The technology and devices the team is investigating offer improved energy efficiency and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The outcome of this research will be to leverage these new technologies when designing energy-conversion, energy-transmission, and thermal-management devices to ultimately support the development of the clean energy technology sector.

“Not only are we looking at the two proposed devices, but we are also looking at how scalable this research can be in the future,” says Gao.

In addition to creating a space for international collaboration, the PIRE program has a focus on educational opportunities. The program will support international research and cultural opportunities for Houston-area community college students and high-school science teachers, as well as teachers in Japan.

The U.S.-based team of collaborators on this project include Gao; Geoffrey Wehmeyer; Junichiro Kono, the Karl F. Hasselmann Chair in Engineering and professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice; Naoko Ozaki, lecturer in Japanese at Rice; Matteo Pasquali, the A.J. Hartsook Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice; and Vasili Perebeinos, professor of electrical engineering at the University at Buffalo.

“We have all kinds of different expertise; I would say our team we have assembled is one of the world-class research groups in the area of carbon nanotubes,” says Gao.  

This grant will support one new Ph.D. student to work with Gao in his lab. For more information, visit Gao’s lab.