Dr. Qiang Zhu, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, received the prestigious U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Early Career Award. He is one of 83 scientists recognized nationwide. Zhu will use his five-year, $750,000 grant, titled “Data-driven Discovery of Inorganic Electrides for Energy Applications,” to search for a type of exotic quantum material called electride.
In an electride, there exist excess electrons trapped inside the crystal cavities. Localization of interstitial electrons provides the early examples of quantum confinement. Engineering on the energy bands of interstitial electrons can be used to design new materials with low work function, high carrier mobility, and nontrivial band topology for various applications in catalysts, spin-electronics, and high-temperature superconductivity. However, despite the rapidly growing interest in electrides by materials scientists, electride research has been hindered due to a lack of candidate materials. His research aims to accelerate the discovery of new electrides through the synergy between group theory, first principles crystal structure prediction, machine learning, and high-throughput screening.
Zhu joined UNLV in 2016. His research interest is to accelerate materials discovery by advanced computations. The invention of new materials is key to driving the proliferation of new technologies. Materials researchers seek to manipulate chemistry and structure to achieve desired material functionality. This is a daunting task as the potential chemical and structural search space is astronomically large. Over the years, Zhu has been developing different computational codes to enable efficient materials structure search and structure-property relation modeling. Apart from electrides, he is also interested in nanoparticles and organic semiconductors.
His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the SONY Corporation. Zhu also teaches courses in computational physics, thermal physics, and statistical mechanics. Prior to joining UNLV, he was a research associate at Stony Brook University. Zhu holds a Ph.D. in Mineral Physics from Stony Brook University and a B.S. in Materials Sciences from Beihang University in China.
About the Early Career Research Award
Now in its 12th year, U.S. Department of Energy Early Career Research Program supports exceptional scientists during the crucial years when many do their most formative work in the agency’s priority research areas. These awards are part of DOE’s longstanding efforts to support critical research at the nation’s universities and National Labs, grow a skilled STEM workforce, and cement America as a global leader in science and innovation. To be eligible for Early Career Research Program awards, a researcher must be an untenured, tenure-track assistant or associate professor at a U.S. academic institution, or a full-time employee at a DOE National Lab, who received a Ph.D. within the past 10 years. Research topics are required to fall within one of the Department's Office of Science's eight major program offices. Awardees were selected based on peer review by outside scientific experts.