The subjects of solar energy, lung cancer prevention and water contamination may seem unrelated, but the research College of Engineering Assistant Professor Yi Zheng is conducting in his Micro and Nanoscale Energy Laboratory could lead to advances in all three areas.

“My research focuses on the enhanced thermal and optical properties of nanostructured materials, which can be applied to energy conversion, biosensing and monitoring harmful algal blooms,” said Zheng.Yi-Zheng-150x150

According to Zheng, who joined the URI faculty in the fall semester of 2014, the current energy conversion efficiency of a solar cell is only about 15 to 20 percent.

“I would like to increase the efficiency to over 50 percent by attaching a thin wavelength selective thermal emitter to the solar photovoltaic cell,” said Zheng. “This would bring financial benefits by producing more electrical energy, in the form of higher energy conversion efficiency, or reducing the cost per electricity generated from the conventional solar cells.”

With regard to his research on lung cancer and water contaminates, Zheng will apply a nanoscale biosensing technique.

“Near-field thermal radiation between nanoparticle-embedded, multilayered structures will be used to detect small amounts of lung cancer biomarkers in serum samples,” explained Zhang.

Thermal infrared biosensors will be employed for monitoring harmful algal blooms in Rhode Island’s coastal environment.

“I will take advantage of wavelength selectivity of surface grating nanostructures to differentiate various species of algae in Rhode Island waters,” stated Zhang.

Zheng’s background is in micro/nanoscale thermal science and engineering. He received his doctoral and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Columbia University. He completed his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China.

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