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The Secrets of Nanocrystals Unlocked

Frenkel Receives $375,000 NSF Grant to Support Three Years of Joint Research with Hebrew University

Dr. Anatoly Frenkel, professor of physics at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women, will serve as principal investigator on a three-year $675,000 grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) for internationally collaborative study of colloidal semiconductor nanocrystals, tiny synthetic particles containing metal impurities whose properties have intriguing implications for the electronics, solar energy and biological fields.

Anatoly FrenkelFrenkel will work in tandem with Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Dr. Uri Banin, Alfred & Erica Larisch Memorial Chair at its Institute of Chemistry. The grant is administered by NSF, which awarded $375,000 to Frenkel's group, and the Binational Science Foundation in Israel, which awarded $300,000 to Banin's.

The team expects the fusion of their diverse backgrounds in physics and chemistry, respectively, to yield eye-opening results: Banin’s expertise in synthesis of nanoscale semiconductors will allow the pair to carefully control the size, shape and composition of the nanocrystals they create, while Frenkel’s experience with nanomaterial characterization will give them greater insight and understanding into the unique, size-dependent effects and interactions of the impurities within the nanocrystals. Ultimately, their research could determine whether nanocrystals like these could be useful materials for inclusion in optics, optoelectronics and solar energy, and more.

“The new materials we’re investigating don’t exist in nature and they have very interesting, unusual physical characteristics,” said Frenkel. “Depending on what we find, we may learn that these materials can be cheaper and more versatile than existing components of things like biomagnetic optical sensors or solar panels that harness solar energy.”

Frenkel and Banin will conduct their respective portions of the research independently across the Atlantic Ocean, but the grant will fund twice-yearly visits between their research groups that will allow them to share their work and participate in each other’s projects. Undergraduates at Yeshiva College and Stern College will have the opportunity to contribute to Frenkel’s research, which uses advanced X-ray absorption spectroscopy, electron microscopy and Raman spectroscopy to study the characterization of the nanocrystals, and accompany him on his visits to Hebrew U. “I think this collaboration is especially exciting for Yeshiva University because it strengthens our connection with another institution in Israel,” said Frenkel.

“I really think that Professor Frenkel is one of very few scientists around the globe that could address this kind of work with us on doped semiconductor nanocrystals, and together, we create a powerful combination,” said Banin. “On the one hand, the synthetic work that is carried out by my group members requires a high degree of control over the synthesis to obtain high-quality colloidal nanocrystals followed by a close control over the impurity doping reaction that allows further modification of the resulting electronic properties. On the other hand, the advanced structural characterization and studies that are led by Anatoly give great insight into the dynamics of impurity diffusion through strongly confined nanostructures, as well as revealing the physical and structural aspects of the impurity-doped nanocrystal, right down to the atomic level of individual impurities embedded within the nanocrystal lattice.”