Yan Cheng

2016-17 E²SHI Fellow

Electrical and Computer Engineering, School of Engineering

Research Focus: Developing new materials for energy applications

Innovative energy technology often requires precious metals to drive the chemical reactions needed to improve materials for energy applications, such as batteries for electric vehicles or solar cells for photovoltaic systems. Previous work in this area has focused on gold and silver-based materials, which are costly and their extraction is typically harmful to the environment and people. To address this challenge, E²SHI Fellow Yan Cheng is seeking ways to produce inexpensive, earth-abundant materials, while increasing efficiency and reliability for energy applications.

Yan is drawing from electrical engineering, chemistry, optical physics and materials science to explore new ways to propel photocatalysis, or the process of using light to speed up chemical reactions. However, current photocatalysis approaches do not efficiently absorb ultraviolet (UV) light, and therefore, the chemical reactions are not efficient. Yan’s research aims to use aluminum-based plasmonic materials, which in turns helps to absorb visible light and transfer electrons to titanium dioxide, a critical material that makes photocatalysis happen. This is an exciting project that could propel photocatalysis to a new level – and potentially offer breakthroughs in energy technology. 

Nearly all our present ecological problems arise from deep-seated social problems.
— Murray Bookchin