Chemistry professor wins $510K grant from Office of Naval Research



Chemistry professor Jianguo Mei’s research is about to get a major boost thanks to the U.S. military.

Mei’s vision on “organic materials with unique combinations of fluidic and semiconducting properties” intrigued the Office of Naval Research enough to award him a Young Investigator grant. Essentially, Mei is looking to make unbreakable liquid electronics.

One of 47 Young Investigator scientists and engineers from across the nation to gain grants this year, Mei will receive $170,000 a year for the next three years to advance his research that looks to create “a new materials horizon for lightweight, flexible, all-polymer solar cells and electronics.” Much of this work revolves around organic semiconductors.

“Organic semiconductors are made of carbon and hydrogen,” Mei said. “Potentially, they could be printed just like you print a newspaper. … That kind of electronics is lightweight, flexible and potentially stretchable.”

Mei added that the money would be used for lab supplies, graduate student stipends and other investigating expenses.

The Office of Naval Research’s Young Investigator Program is a longstanding research advancement program. Its aim is to fund early-academic researchers “whose scientific pursuits show outstanding promise for supporting the Department of Defense while also promoting their professional development.”

The 47 awardees were selected from a field of 280 qualifying proposals. Other factors for approval included the researchers’ past experience and their institutional support. Purdue’s clout helped him get noticed.

“These efforts align well with the program’s goal to develop low-cost, potentially disposable, lightweight flexible organic and/or polymeric thin-film photovoltaics for military use in distributed operations,” Mei stated. “The proposed efforts are also in line with the Navy’s material and manufacturing directorate focusing on the development of materials, processes and advanced manufacturing technologies, and Department of Defense’s new initiative on flexible hybrid electronics manufacturing.

Mei is a polymer chemist by training but his quest to create printable, unbreakable electronics dates back to his PhD studies about 10 years ago. He said the grant could help him find major breakthroughs.

“There has been a big boost, especially in the last five years,” Mei said. “but more progress has to be made.”

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