Alan J. Heeger, 2000 Nobel Laureate in chemistry and professor of physics at the University of California Santa Barbara, will deliver the Albert Einstein Memorial Lecture on Thursday, April 23, at 5:30 p.m. at Dodds Auditorium on the Princeton University campus. Heeger’s topic: “Turning the Dream of Low Cost Plastic Solar Cells into a Reality.”
Widely known for his pioneering research in and the co-founding of the field of semiconducting and metallic polymers, Heeger is also the recipient of numerous awards, including the Nobel Prize in chemistry (2000), the Oliver E. Buckley Prize for condensed matter physics, the Balzan Prize for the science of new materials, the President’s Medal for Distinguished Achievement from the University of Pennsylvania, and the Chancellor’s Medal from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Heeger grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. He completed his bachelor’s in physics and mathmatics at the University of Nebraska. He did graduate work at UC Berkeley, where he completed his Ph.D. in Physics in 1961. His academic career began at the University of Pennsylvania in 1962. He was made professor in 1967 and served as director of the Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter and as vice provost for research.
Heeger moved to UC Santa Barbara in 1982 where he joined the physics department. He was a founding member of the materials department (in engineering) and he was a founder and first director of the Institute for Polymers and Organic Solids. He holds the presidential chair at UCSB where he serves as professor of physics and materials.
Heeger has more than 800 publications in scientific journals and more than 50 patents. He founded UNIAX Corporation in 1990; UNIAX was acquired by DuPont in 2000. Heeger is a co-founder and serves on the board of directors of Konarka Technologies. He is co-founder and chairman of CBrite Inc. in Santa Barbara. He is co-founder and vice-chairman of Cynvenio (micro fluidics for cell sorting and related areas) and Cytomx Therapeutics (novel technology for targeted drug delivery).
His research group at UC Santa Barbara continues to study aspects of the science and technology of semiconducting and metallic polymers with focus on the gate-induced insulator-to-metal transition in polymer field effect transistors and low cost “plastic” solar cells. Current interests also include biosensors for the detection of specific targeted sequences on DNA, the detection of specific proteins, and the detection of biologically relevant small molecules.
Dr. Heeger describes the challenges of his research:
“We have an energy problem. Solar cells, powered by the sun, can provide and must provide a significant contribution to our future energy needs. The challenge is clear: We must create the scientific foundation and the technology to enable fabrication of large areas of high efficiency solar cells at low cost.
“The discovery of ultrafast, photo-induced electron transfer technology provides the scientific foundation for the creation of another technology that enables the production of low cost “plastic” solar cells. This ultrafast PET technology allows the initial charge separation process to occur at a time scale two orders of magnitude faster than the first step in photo-synthesis in green plants. Next, charge collection at the electrodes is accomplished through self-assembly of bulk heterojunction (BHJ) nano-materials by spontaneous phase separation.
“Recent results include the achievement of 6 percent power conversion efficiency and the demonstration of quantum efficiencies approaching 100 percent. Each photon absorbed leads to a (positive and negative) pair of mobile charge carriers, and all the photo-generated charge carriers are collected at the electrodes. Higher efficiencies will come from improved harvesting of the photons from the solar spectrum using new semiconducting polymers designed and synthesized for use in solar cells.
“Today we see a clear technology pathway to produce high efficiency “plastic” solar cells with a lifetime sufficient for long term rooftop applications. Lifetime issues and progress toward manufacturing plastic solar cells by printing/coating technology will be explained. The talk will demonstrate that with the right technology in place, the dream of low cost plastic solar cells will become reality.