Faculty & Research

Research Overview

No single technology will solve the world’s growing energy needs. Ultimately, a collection of different energy technologies must work in concert to efficiently and cleanly produce, store, and consume the 20 TW of power that humans around the globe will soon demand. Although there are many existing technologies for energy conversion devices, most cannot provide renewable or sustainable solutions at scale because they are either too inefficient or too expensive. It is thus critical to improve the efficiency of these devices.

The overarching goal of CNEEC is to develop the fundamental understanding needed to increase the efficiency of energy conversion devices by manipulating materials at the nanometer scale. This involves developing the fabrication and characterization methodologies to understand how nanostructuring can optimize transport, light absorption, and reaction kinetics. Based on these fundamental advances, we hope to demonstrate ways to improve the performance and efficiency of energy conversion devices that rely on shared physical and chemical phenomena. Although the Center emphasizes fundamental research, we conduct our research with the motivation to improve efficiencies in energy conversion.

  • Generate new knowledge and advance the progress of research.
  • Deliver world-class, research-based education to students, and broad-based training to leaders in academia, industry, and society.
  • Facilitate technology transfer, applying people and ideas to improve our society and our world.

The Center is designed to make fundamental advances in cross-cutting scientific theme areas which are likely to lead to step-out improvements in device efficiencies. In particular, we rely on nanostructuring to

  • Optimize light absorption through quantum and optical confinement, and
  • Improve catalysis through theory-driven design.

Through nanostructuring, our research exploits physical properties such as high gradients, high surface-to-volume ratios and low dimensionality to vary photonic behavior through quantum confinement for efficient photon capture, and to reduce distances for charge transport. This involves learning how to manipulate electrons, photons, ions, atoms, and molecules – by tuning material properties through nanostructuring.

To achieve our goals, we organize our research activities under two closely related and complementary projects, namely,

Project 1. Optical and quantum confinement for light absorption

Project 2. Atomic scale engineering for catalysis


The two projects work together toward the common goal of developing systems that can lead to break-out high-efficiency, cost-effective solar energy-to-fuel technologies.


Center on Nanostructuring for Efficient Energy Conversion is an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science and Office of Basic Energy Sciences