Published 26 June 2017 by Il Jeon
Imagine a World Without Electrical Sockets
My research involves the development of new materials and applying them to energy devices. There are three types of materials that I mainly focus on: carbon allotropes, transition metal dichalcogenides and organic surface modifiers. I produce and modify these materials to use them in photovoltaics, such as specific types of solar cells. As the paradigm of electronics is shifting to flexibility, low-cost and environmental friendliness, I believe replacing conventional materials by new materials that are flexible, cheaper and more ecological can keep energy devices abreast of this. Ultimately, we can expect to see devices that are fully composed of carbon allotropes, transition metal dichalcogenides and organic compounds. This will lead to a future of wearable energy technology in which people will treat solar energy the way we treat Wi-Fi and Bluetooth these days. Imagine charging your mobile phones from indoor lights and a world without electrical sockets. It goes without saying that this could solve the present-day energy and environmental issues.
There is a good reason why I am working on this research topic. I have had various research experiences both in academia and industry. Just like Steve Jobs said in the commencement address at Stanford, connecting dots is the root innovation that can lead to breakthroughs in science. Therefore, I wanted to connect the dots from my past career. I hold degrees in chemistry at undergraduate and graduate levels. This laid the foundation for the material studies that I am doing now. Then, the work experience at a South Korean conglomerate, LG Display Co. ltd., where I developed organic light emitting devices (OLED) and quantum dot displays, sparked my interest in energy devices. This is due to the fact that energy devices have a similar working mechanism to display devices, and I wanted to work on something that addresses the societal issues directly.
There are three key components to my research: growth, synthesis and fabrication. I grow carbon allotropes and transition metal dichalcogenides by using chemical vapour deposition, which is a chemical process to form a high quality material using high temperatures in a vacuum so that it does not catch fire. Once they are produced, I modify those using organic synthesis to render new functionalities to the materials. Various fullerene derivatives and modified graphene are good examples of this. These materials are characterised and utilised in solar cell fabrication. The end goal is to improve the performance of energy devices using newly developed materials. I generally spend half of my week on material development and the other half on device fabrication. Some people say that I cannot catch two hares at the same time and I should focus on either material science or device engineering. However, I am a competitive person so I believe you can catch more than two hares if you work just that much harder.