Jun Lou

Research Grant, Rice Univ.

Jun Lou, professor and associate department chair, Materials Science and NanoEngineering, at Rice University, focuses on nanomaterial synthesis, nanomechanical characterization, and nanodevice fabrication for energy, environmental, and biomedical applications. His research centers on low-dimensional materials with the goal of understanding their properties, developing ways to make them, and exploring useful applications.

One key area for his team is synthesizing and fabricating nanomaterials and nanostructures, including metallic and semiconductor nanowires/nanorings, carbon nanotubes and graphene, thin metal/ceramic films on compliant polymer substrates, bio-mimetic hierarchical surface patterns, and multifunctional nanocomposites.

Closely allied research looks to characterize and understand the important microstructural, mechanical (including deformation, fracture, fatigue, and friction), electro-mechanical, chemo-mechanical, and thermo-mechanical properties of the nanomaterials and nanostructures as well as the inter-correlations among these attributes. The lab has developed state-of-the-art techniques and methods to enable this advanced nanomechanical characterization.

Dr. Lou leverages insights gained to develop and integrate these nanomaterials and nanostructures into useful devices and systems for a variety of practical applications. These include dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSC), nano-electro-mechanical sensors based on suspended nanowires and nanotubes, multi-scale roughness coatings for anti-biofouling applications, nano-porous carriers for drug delivery, and protein-based nanocomposites for tissue engineering scaffolds and biosensors.

As a materials scientist, Dr. Lou first became interested in one- and two-dimensional materials as the field was just emerging.

“Since then, there has been so much innovation and advances in this field – yet it continues to be fascinating with so much more to learn,” he said. “There are so many potential real-world applications that could really make a difference to society. It continues to inspire our team.”

For example, his research is looking to adapt the “Scotch tape” method of creating a single atomic layer of graphene (which won the creator the Nobel Prize in Chemistry) to develop more scalable methods to produce useful crystals.

The team’s current Welch-funded research team is investigating the physical and chemical properties of bilayer graphene, including how to electrically tune the bandgap between layers, which could have important uses in devices such as cell phones. Graphene’s mechanical and chemical properties make it much stronger than steel. Dr. Lou’s group is collaborating with physics colleagues on potential uses of this material in quantum computing and the conversion of carbon dioxide into useful chemicals.

“It has been such a pleasure working with The Welch Foundation for the past 15 years,” said Dr. Lou. “Its support has been crucial for us, letting us pursue bold, high-risk research that often has delivered high-impact results.”