Dr. Shubhra Bansal Receives Prestigious NSF CAREER Award
Dr. Shubhra Bansal says the leadership of Center of Energy Research (CER) in the field of solar energy was a key factor in bringing her to UNLV. She received her Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree in Metallurgical and Materials Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee. After graduating with her Ph.D., she worked as a research scientist at GE Global Research and as a Technical Advisor for the Department of Energy before joining UNLV in 2015.
Tell us about your Research
In my research group we work on materials development and reliability analysis of materials for photovoltaics (PV, solar cells), sensors and flexible electronics. My research entails materials deposition, defect engineering, materials characterization and reliability analyses. I collaborate with research groups at national laboratories, and universities in the United States, Germany, and Denmark for our solar cell research. My research is funded by the Department of Energy, Nevada NASA EPSCoR, and NSF.
What is the NSF CAREER Award?
NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) is the most prestigious award to support early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education. It is a 5-year, $500,000 award starting on March 1, through which we will develop high efficiency solar cells in the "perovskite" family of materials. The award will give me an opportunity to build a strong team of researchers to close the knowledge gap for Pb-free perovskite solar cells.
How did you react when you learned you received the award?
Honestly, I was quite overwhelmed when I received the notification of the NSF CAREER award. I lost a child to stillbirth at 36 weeks, the year I started at UNLV. Our big move across the country from the east coast, leaving all my friends and my establishment behind had been tough and personally challenging. Getting from there to now, receiving one of the most prestigious scientific awards means a lot to me. I want those reading this to know they should never to lose hope and keep fighting for what they believe in. This award is also a testament of the hard work of my students, and the UNLV faculty opportunity awards who initially funded this research.
What type of research and educations activities are you considering for the next five years?
My team will be developing novel Pb-free mixed halide-chalcogenide perovskite materials for high efficiency solar cells. Halide perovskites are an interesting class of materials which have achieved record breaking efficiencies and can enable low-cost, large scale PV adoption. Our project intends to develop Pb-free compositions to mitigate the toxicity concerns of Pb. In addition to these scientific advancements, I will train underrepresented minority and women graduate and undergraduate students in the science of climate change and materials for renewable energy applications. I also intend to host a series of workshops to identify the fundamental roadblocks for development of high efficiency Pb-free perovskite materials in collaboration with international academic community and industry partners.
Supporting minorities and women is important to you. Why?
I have always had very inspiring women role models and mentors from GE, Department of Energy, and now at UNLV. I see it as my responsibility to mentor and support women and minorities in the STEM field. It is important for universities to have a strong support structure for women faculty, who should never have to choose between tenure-track and family.
A strong support system
Being a mother of two very active young boys, it is not easy for me to juggle everything. Without my husband’s support I don’t think I would be able to sustain. Additionally, I would like to recognize my mentors at UNLV: Dr. Jaci Batista and Dr. Bob Boehm at CER; Dr. Kwang Kim and Dr. Brendan O’Toole of Mechanical Engineering. Dean of the College of Engineering, Dr. Rama Venkat, has also been very instrumental, as he always ensures that the junior faculty have mentors and a robust support structure.
What brought you to UNLV?
We are fortunate to have world class researchers such as Dr. Clemens Heske in Chemistry whose research in the field of solar energy materials, I have followed for a long time. The niche group of high-quality researchers that we have at UNLV attracted me here.
What do you love about being at UNLV?
The main aspect I love about being at UNLV is working with students from underrepresented communities and minorities. A lot of our students are working full-time to support families while completing their degrees, so it is very rewarding to work with them knowing we are making a real difference.