URI PhD student among 80 graduate students selected for US Department of Energy program – URI News
KINGSTON, RI – June 15, 2022 – Would you like to work at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago?
Sounds like something from the distant future, right? But it’s as current and real as the work that University of Rhode Island doctoral student Cali Antolini is doing in the US Department of Energy’s Graduate Student Research Program.
At the end of the spring semester, Antolini began work at the Advanced Photon Source, a synchrotron radiation facility, to research the effectiveness of materials such as tin halide perovskites, an interest in scientists for their potential to capture solar energy and produce electricity more efficiently. . The sixth-month scholarship provides Antolini with a stipend and funds for living expenses. URI covers its tuition and fees.
Antolini, from Fountain, Colorado, and now lives in Wakefield, is one of 80 graduate students from 21 states participating in the program. According to a press release issued by the Office of Science, students will be involved in world-class training and have access to state-of-the-art facilities and resources at the Department of Energy’s National Laboratories. “The program prepares graduate students for access to jobs critical to the DOE’s mission and secures the United States’ position at the forefront of discovery and innovation,” the announcement reads.
“For decades, the DOE has cultivated the expertise needed to tackle the nation’s greatest science challenges,” said Undersecretary for Science and Innovation Geraldine Richmond. “Now we need to invest in a diverse and talented pool of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs who will be this country’s future science and innovation leaders.”
Antolini is working with Michael Hu, a beamline scientist and physicist at Argonne, and URI Professor of Chemistry Dugan Hayes to use X-rays to see what happens when electrons from tin sulfides and halide perovskites are exposed to a light source. In his research, the light source is a powerful and ultra-fast laser.
Antolini’s work continues his research with Hayes at Argonne which began in the summer of 2019 and was scheduled to continue through the summers of 2020 and 2021, but COVID-19 prevented it. Hayes will make periodic visits over the summer to Argonne to work with Antolini.
“It’s really great that Cali is finishing what we started,” said Hayes.
“In my work at URI with Professor Hayes and during my fellowship at Argonne, we are working on methods to make solar energy materials cheaper and more efficient,” Antolini said. “This is directly related to my doctoral dissertation, and this prestigious DOE scholarship has sent me to a place where only this type of research can be conducted.”
Antolini relies on Argonne Laboratory’s advanced photon source to deliver ultra-bright, high-energy X-ray beams to probe changes in tin sulfides and halide perovskites following excitation of an optical laser using a technique called nuclear forward scatter.
“We use X-rays from the photon source as gamma rays to observe tin nuclei and see how they change in response to the absorption of light by electrons in the materials. By observing these processes on an ultrafast timescale, we can discover ways to improve the stability of tin halide perovskite without sacrificing efficiency,” said Hayes.
“Cali is doing something no one has ever done before,” Hayes said. “Combining nuclear forward scattering with ultrafast lasers to achieve a transient Mössbauer spectrum is novel.”
Hayes said his lab has a Mössbauer spectrometer and lasers, but there’s no way to synchronize them without the advanced technology available at Argonne National Laboratory.
Antolini studies these reactions because tin halide perovskites are much cheaper to manufacture than silicon, which is the current standard in photovoltaic materials. It carries a much lower risk of toxicity than a lead perovskite, which is also used in solar materials. But there is a catch. Tin halide perovskites are not as efficient as lead or silicon perovskites at converting sunlight into energy.
For every 4 watts of sunlight collected by lead and silicon perovskites, 1 watt of electricity is produced. But for tin halide it is closer to 10 watts of sunlight for every watt of electricity.
“We’re trying to understand what we can about the process, so engineers and others can build on what we learn about tin halide perovskites and use that knowledge to design better materials and collection systems and converting solar energy into electricity,” Hayes said.
She was asked what she hopes to do after getting her doctorate. in chemistry in the spring of 2023, Antolini said, “My preference would be to continue working with X-rays in a national lab and doing what I’m doing right now.”