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2011: MSU P-A Professor Pengpeng Zhang Selected for U.S. Department of Energy Early Career Research Program Award

The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) recently announced 68 Early Career Research Program financial awards for young faculty from amongst 1150 applicants for the fiscal year 2011. One of the awardees was Dr. Pengpeng Zhang of the MSU P-A department. Dr. Zhang's project, Utilizing Molecular Self-Assembly to Tailor Electrical Properties of Si Nanomembranes has potential applications ranging from nano-electronics to energy harvesting. It was selected for funding by the DoE's Office of Basic Energy Sciences (BES).

Dr. Zhang's award follows recent NSF career awards to two other MSU P-A Faculty: Dr. Chih-Wei Lai and Dr. Reinhard Schwienhorst. Dr. Lai, the Cowen Junior Chair in Experimental Physics, studies ultrafast coherent quantum phenomena, while Dr. Schwienhorst studies Elementary Particle Physics, particularly Top Quark physics.

The DoE's Early Career Research Award is a newly introduced program to foster development of research programs in use-inspired Energy Science. The 2010/2011 competition was across all disciplines and included academic and DoE laboratory applicants. MSU did very well in this competition with two awards, one to Dr. Zhang and the other to Dr. Tom Hamann in the Chemistry Department. The awards provide $750,000 in research support over five years, and the full list of awards is available online at

The objective of Dr Zhang's project is to use silicon (Si) nanomembrane, a well controlled two-dimensional single crystalline semiconductor, as a prototype system to explore the mechanistic basis of electronic interactions at the hetero-interface and to develop strategies to tailor nanomembrane transport properties by surface functionalization and self-assembly. Understanding and control of hetero-interfaces between organic and inorganic materials is crucially important for the development of organic electronics, molecular electronics, molecular/biological sensors, and energy converting devices. However, an atomic- and molecular- level understanding of charge transfer behaviors at the interface and how they influence the properties of inorganic materials remains elusive. This work exploits the precision of molecular assembly on Si nanomembranes and combines the scanning probe microscopy characterization of local interfacial electronic structures with the electrical transport measurements of nanomembranes to elucidate the interfacial phenomena. The fundamental insights provided by this research may lead to the rational design of nanomaterials with controlled properties via regulation of surfaces and interfaces.