Researchers receive early career awards

By Erik Gomez, Voiland College of Engineering & Architecture intern

PULLMAN, Wash. – Three Washington State University researchers have received young faculty awards from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Defense Advanced Research Program Agency (DARPA).

Jean-Sabin McEwen and Steven R. Saunders, assistant professors in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering, and Dae Hyun Kim, assistant professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, each received approximately $500,000. Their awards are intended to provide significant research support to young faculty beginning their careers.

With support from their NSF CAREER awards, McEwen and Saunders are improving catalysts, which are crucial in a wide variety of industries including fuel and energy production, environmental cleanup and pharmaceutical production. Kim received the DARPA Young Faculty Award to develop high-performance three-dimensional integrated circuits.

The NSF projects also have related educational and outreach programs that target high school students and aim to increase interest in higher education opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math fields, especially among women and underrepresented minorities.

More efficient automotive catalysis

Jean-Sabin McEwen

McEwen is developing a model for predicting behavior of low-temperature exhaust catalysts in real-world conditions. In automobiles, researchers have struggled to develop a system that seamlessly and easily converts pollutants like nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide to less harmful nitrogen and carbon dioxide without using a lot of energy. The best catalysts don’t work well at low temperatures, which is why a car puts out more pollution for the first few miles as it warms up.

The McEwen group will investigate the applicability of the emerging area of “single-site” catalysis to low-temperature automotive exhaust catalysis. In collaboration with Tufts University researchers, the WSU team will use a comprehensive model they developed to predict exhaust gas reactions. The work could also improve the possibility of using earth- abundant rather than expensive and precious metals, such as platinum, in efficient automotive catalysis.

Switching molecules to improve catalysts

Steven R. Saunders

Saunders is developing better methods of preparing catalysts so they are more efficient and last longer. Researchers would like to have better control over catalysts, particularly at the nanoscale. Traditional methods of preparation lack sufficient control over the size of the nanoparticles that are created, resulting in catalysts that don’t perform as well as they could.

Saunders’ team is working with molecules that can be switched on or off through physical or chemical stimuli, such as through heating or the introduction of carbon dioxide, as a way to control the shape, size, synthesis and deposition of metallic nanoparticles to be used as catalysts. They have shown that catalysts prepared using switchable molecules are more resistant to size and shape changes and can perform at higher temperatures for longer periods of time.

Stacking microprocessor to speed performance

Dae Hyun Kim

Kim is designing a 3-D stacked microprocessor that will be 10 to 20 times faster than 2-D microprocessors. Multiple stacked layers increase the data transfer capability, enable integration of more processing elements and improve performance of the processing elements.

The researchers are working to stack the microprocessor to reduce the distance between transistors, reduce its signal time and make the processor faster. Kim will use a microarchitecture simulator to demonstrate the performance of the new microprocessor.