My research is primarily driven by the fact that major advances in the understanding of fundamental physics are important to enable transitioning to a sustainable world. As such, my main interests are in thermoelectric materials, actinides, and photovoltaics.
Thermoelectrics are intriguing due to their seemingly self-contradictory properties of high electrical conductivities but low thermal conductivities. This rare combination allows useful applications such as solid state heat pumps and heat engines. One important way to understand why certain materials are thermoelectric is to better understand the local structure (that is, the structure at the atomic level). I use synchrotron X-rays to probe individual bonds and computer simulations to determine low energy configurations.
Actinides occupy a mysterious area of the periodic table. Far less is known about the basic physical properties of actinides such as thorium, uranium, and plutonium than lighter elements such as copper and iron due to the relatively recent discovery/creation of actinides. This lack of existing knowledge results in the opportunity to uncover both fundamental physics as well as explore new and unique phenomena.
Photovoltaics make up a rapidly growing field due to demand for solar cells that are less expensive. Many materials show promise toward significantly lower cost, in particular organic solar cells. Organic solar cells are incredibly inexpensive, but are subject to severe degradation that results in low efficiencies and a short panel lifetime. But if improvements can be made in better understanding the defects that cause degradation, it is likely possible to prevent them and enable widespread adoption of inexpensive organic solar cells.