September 25, 2015 3:45PM
Since Man forged the first plow and stuck it into the earth, rust has been an enemy. But to Ram Gupta, an assistant professor and research scientist at Pittsburg State University, rust, or iron oxide, may be one of the keys to a world powered by inexpensive, abundant and environmentally friendly energy.
Gupta, who came to PSU in 2013 as part of the university’s Polymer Chemistry Initiative, teaches undergraduate and graduate students in the Department of Chemistry and conducts research in labs located in the Kansas Polymer Research Center at PSU. One focus of his research is on green energy production and storage using bio-waste, nanomaterials and 2D layer structured materials.
“I grew up in India in an area in which we got just four or five hours of electricity a day,” Gupta said. “That’s one of the reasons for my interest in energy.”
Gupta and the other scientists in PSU’s Polymer Chemistry Initiative think and work on scales that most people can only imagine. For example, a student researcher working under Gupta’s guidance recently developed a method to synthesize cost effectively iron oxide nanocrystals for energy storage applications. The average size of the nanocrystals they developed was estimated to be eight nanometers. That compares to the thickness of a sheet of paper, which is about 100,000 nanometers.
The research appeared in the New Journal of Chemistry, published by the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Petar Dvornic, chair of the Department of Chemistry, said Pittsburg State has built a state-of-the-art lab for advanced research in “electrically interesting” polymers with an emphasis on their use in batteries and photovoltaics.
“We believe that the way nanotechnology is progressing, the miniaturization of computers with simultaneous order-of-magnitude leaps in memory capacity will soon lead to the ultimate limits of the era of silicon-based computers as we know them,” Dvornic said. “We think that there are some things that we do that can actually help us get there.”
That kind of research interests the U. S. Department of Energy (DOE), which is why Gupta spent part of this past summer in Los Alamos, N.M., doing research as in a DOE Visiting Faculty Program.
“My proposal was to synthesize novel layered materials that could replace or have better properties than well known graphene,” Gupta said.
(Graphene is a layer of pure carbon that is so thin it is considered two-dimensional and has a wide array of possible applications, including energy transmission.)
At Los Alamos National Lab, he developed new 2D layered materials for fuel cell applications. Fuel cell is another way to generate green energy using water as feed.
Some new equipment in the PSU research labs is making Gupta’s research possible. That includes a “sputtering and thermal evaporator,” which is actually the combination of two devices that allow the creation of incredibly thin layers of material.
Gupta’s research interests are varied and include everything from optoelectronics and photovoltaics (solar cell) devices, high capacity energy storage devices, polymers and composites, and bio-based polymers, to biocompatible nanofibers for tissue regeneration, scaffold and antibacterial applications, bio-degradable metallic implants, dilute magnetic semiconductors, ferromagnetic materials and multiferroic materials for sensor and data storage applications.
That range of research possibilities keeps Gupta’s five graduate and two undergraduate students hopping. He loves teaching, he said, as much as he loves research. For the students, it’s a rare opportunity to do research with some pretty hefty practical possibilities.
Gupta holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi, India. Prior to coming to PSU, he worked as an assistant research professor at Missouri State University and then as a senior research scientist at North Carolina A&T State University.
Gupta said the unusual combination of a strong academic Department of Chemistry with polymer chemistry degree programs, a research facility like the Kansas Polymer Research Center, and the Kansas Technology Center’s production and manufacturing laboratories made Pittsburg State the ideal location for him to continue his research.
“I don’t think there is any other place that has this unique combination,” Gupta said.
For more on Dr. Ram Gupta and his research.
For more on PSU’s Department of Chemistry and the Polymer Chemistry Initiative at PSU.
For more on the Kansas Polymer Research Center at PSU.