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Amanda Morris receives Powe junior faculty award in support of her solar energy research


Amanda Morris, Department of Chemistry Amanda Morris

BLACKSBURG, Va., June 21, 2012 – Oak Ridge Associated Universities has selected Amanda Morris, a Virginia Tech scientist investigating sustainable energy, for a 2012 Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award. The unrestricted grant is for faculty members in the first two years of their tenure track.

Morris, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry, is searching for ways to harness energy from the sun in an easier, more efficient, less expensive method than currently available. The $5,000 Powe award, which is matched by Virginia Tech, is aimed at aiding Morris to foster new collaborations in her research field and advance her scientific investigations.

“This award already has opened up collaboration with a material engineer at Oak Ridge National Laboratories,” Morris said. “One of my graduate students is spending the month of June at ORNL (Oak Ridge) learning how to make new nanomaterials to use in next generation solar cells.”

The furthering of her research through the Powe award also will assist in securing grants from other funding sources, she said.

Morris was chosen as one of this year’s Powe award recipients from among 111 faculty applications from the 115 university members of Oak Ridge Associated Universities. Only two applications are allowed from each institution.

The association chose Morris on the basis of her quest to find an artificial photosynthesis system that would harvest the sun’s energy to transform carbon dioxide into a chemical fuel such as methane, methanol, or isopropanol. Morris and her team also are investigating development of solar cells made from inexpensive materials so that energy derived from the sun can be stored better than currently is possible.

Morris also is collaborating with Eva Marand, a Virginia Tech professor of chemical engineering. That partnership garnered a Junior Faculty Collaborative award from the university’s Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science.  The junior faculty award program is to encourage and support collaborative research between junior and senior faculty members.
In this partnership, Morris’ research team is developing organic metal frameworks that can electrochemically reduce – convert – carbon dioxide from a coal power plant flue. They will deposit the catalytic material on porous glass that will create a flow-through membrane.

Next, Marand will apply an electric current across the membrane to measure the efficiency and type of products formed from the reduction of carbon dioxide. 

Morris joined Virginia Tech as an assistant professor of inorganic and energy chemistry in August 2011. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Penn State University in 2005 and her doctorate at Johns Hopkins University in 2009. From 2009 until coming to Virginia Tech, Morris was a postdoctoral associate at Princeton University.

The College of Science at Virginia Tech gives students a comprehensive foundation in the scientific method. Outstanding faculty members teach courses and conduct research in biological sciences, chemistry, economics, geosciences, mathematics, physics, psychology, and statistics. The college offers programs in cutting-edge areas including, among others, those in energy and the environment, developmental science across the lifespan, infectious diseases, computational science, nanoscience, and neuroscience. The College of Science is dedicated to fostering a research-intensive environment that promotes scientific inquiry and outreach.