For Yuxuan Wang, a doctoral student in the Materials Science and Engineering Program, a large part of the decision to pursue research at Binghamton University was the opportunity to focus on functional nano-materials and their potential applications to practical solutions in energy efficiency and independence — specifically through collaborative work with associate professor Jiye (James) Fang. “My mentor, Dr. Fang, whose research is focused on applications of green energy and energy-saving programs, is a major reason why I’m here at Binghamton,” Wang says.
One of the greatest benefits to Wang’s professional development is the novelty and flexibility of the program itself. “It’s the freedom here. The newness of the Materials Science program really encourages and allows for interdisciplinary work … [it] offers several opportunities to make connections to various applications. I’m able to get a broader view, which I think we need,” Wang says. “Rather than focusing just on the synthesis, I can also take courses that focus on the aspects of applying these materials ‘in the real world.’” Wang also appreciates the freedom he has to direct his own course of study and take classes in areas such as engineering or chemistry that focus on the tremendous potential for applications that could result from his research.
Wang’s research is specifically dedicated to the synthesis of nano-materials: bringing atoms together to construct unbelievably small, microscopic particles, and then constructing and maintaining the materials that are created from them. He also studies the structural changes of the particles themselves and “superlatices” (nano-materials and the particles they form on a macro-structural level) under high-pressure conditions.
“Anyone can make metal alloys,” Wang says, “but in this lab we can control the particle shape. Since particles with different shapes interact differently, if we can control and manipulate the shape, we can make progress in terms of finding out which natural (and renewable) materials work well with which shapes and create products from there.”
Such research applications are already at work, as shown by a partnership with General Motors to develop and prepare a catalyst that can contribute to fuel cell research and creation. Wang is currently researching how to use platinum, a very expensive material, more efficiently as a catalyst – or not at all. “Research has already shown that certain metal alloys are more efficient than platinum in terms of the catalyzing process. We are looking for ways to introduce alloys to the nano-particles themselves, finding other ways to catalyze platinum that might lead to by-products that are better for the environment and enable more affordable, longer-lasting vehicles.”
“When I saw that materials this small in size had such amazing applications I really wanted to work with them,” Wang says. “It’s almost magical that something this small can do so much…can have so much potential.”
Wang adds that “aside from my fascination with the potential found in such a small, ‘magic’ sized particle, it’s really the practicality of working with these materials that made me want to work in this area. I believe in efficiency, in using the simplest method to get amazing, useful results.”
And, according to Wang, that’s exactly what work in Binghamton’s lab is all about. Synthesis is “a very simple process, using very beautiful particles. There are so many potential applications, and instead of spending millions of dollars, we really don’t need much to do this process.”
Last Updated: 5/25/12