The Department of Defense grant that was awarded to Morgan State University to establish the new center is the first of its kind. With the funding, Morgan students will be a part of groundbreaking research that will provide various technologies to the defense sector and clean energy solutions to protect the environment. (Photo Courtesy of Morgan State University)

By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member

The Department of Defense (DoD) recently awarded researchers of Morgan State University’s School of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences a $7.5-million grant to be used over the next five years. The grant will be used to establish the Center for Advanced Electro-Photonics with 2D Materials, which will also be run by Johns Hopkins University (JHU) in partnership with its Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). 

This new center, to be exclusively focused on electro-photonics, is believed to be the first of its kind at any historically Black college or university (HBCU). 

“The main objective here is to train underrepresented students in STEM education. In order to motivate the students, we needed a funded facility so that undergraduate and graduate students could be supported and engaged in research,” said Ramesh Budhani, professor of physics at Morgan and director of the new center. “We would also like to use some funding to promote science education amongst high school students.” 

The hope is that Morgan will be able to host a summer program for inner city students to motivate them to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors at the university. 

According to Budhani, the second goal of the center is to perform world class science in advanced materials, specifically quantum materials and their applications. Student researchers will examine van der Waals solids, which are layered compounds of a particular family of elements. 

Because they are two dimensional, you can peel them to reveal a single set of atoms that are extremely sensitive to light. After shining a light on them, they will create charge carriers that lead to electrical conduction. These materials can then be used to make solar cells which compose the solar panels we see on rooftops. 

“The goal is to integrate these layered compounds with quantum dots and make some very high efficiency solar cells,” said Budhani. “The main challenge is how to make these materials over large areas.” 

The 2D materials can also be used to sense weak sources of light and create refrigeration. According to Budhani, both the astrophysics community and defense sector are very interested in these applications. The cooling property also has the potential to generate clean drinking water from moisture in the air. 

The center will also offer Morgan and JHU students summer internships, co-advising for Ph.D. dissertations and annual workshops. Through the applied research experience, students will gain access to jobs. 

“There are great opportunities for these students to work jointly with the science of the army, and then eventually get a job there,” said Budhani. “With their training in solar cells and thermoelectrics, they can also work for a large number of energy-related technology companies.”

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