ADVERTISEMENT

Luisa Whittaker-Brooks

Sustainability powerhouse is building multitasking materials for the future

by Matt Davenport
August 20, 2018 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 96, ISSUE 33

For Luisa Whittaker-Brooks, the quest to make the materials of the future started with understanding the shortcomings of the past.

Her team at the University of Utah is exploring a variety of materials to bolster electronic devices, including solar cells and batteries. And the idea isn't just to make these technologies work better but also to make them do more by bringing optimized, advanced materials together in next-gen, multitasking products.

Whittaker-Brooks grew up in Panama, where most of the power comes from hydroelectric dams. This reliance becomes more dangerous as the impacts of climate change become more severe, she says.

"In Panama, basically our rivers are drying up," she says. "And that made me think about how I can use other types of alternative energies."

One approach would be to control the crystal structure of perovskite solar-cell materials to deliver optimal energy-harvesting properties. But Whittaker-Brooks is not restricting her synthesize-and-optimize scheme to one material. Perovskites are just one piece of her puzzle.

To distinguish herself from others in the crowded solar-cell field and to build next-generation devices, she's engineering a variety of functional materials to one day work together in multifunctional devices.

For instance, her team is investigating the energy-storing behavior of two-dimensional metal chalcogenides, such as titanium sulfide, that could be incorporated into a power source to collect energy harvested from a perovskite solar cell. Such a device could continue delivering power even when the sun's down.

Whittaker-Brooks's group is also developing materials that generate electrical energy from heat, potentially providing another power source that works in the dark. Ultimately, the team's goal is to bring all these materials together in a single device to deliver uninterrupted, sustainable energy.

The team's materials would also be useful in a number of other devices, Whittaker-Brooks explains, including cell phones, sensors, and even hard drives. In pursuing these diverse applications, she is working to understand the fundamental materials science that she hopes will enable her and others to eventually engineer materials on demand, with specific properties for specific applications.

That's a tall order, but Whittaker-Brooks has always been a positive, tenacious force in the lab, thriving on challenges, says organic electronics expert Lynn Loo, Whittaker-Brooks's postdoc adviser at Princeton University. These traits have helped Whittaker-Brooks establish herself as a leader in materials synthesis, characterization, and device fabrication.

"The word 'relentless' comes to mind," Loo says. "She's a ball of fire."

Watch Whittaker-Brooks speak at the American Chemical Society national meeting on Aug. 20 in Boston.
Credit: C&EN/ACS Productions

Vitals

Current affiliation: University of Utah

Age: 34

Ph.D. alma mater: University at Buffalo

Role model: The late Mildred Dresselhaus. Her contributions laid the groundwork for all the advances we have witnessed in carbon-based electronic and spintronic systems, as well as low-dimensional materials for thermoelectrics.

If I were an element, I would be: Uranium because, via transmutation, I could decay into other elements of the periodic table (at least for a short period of time).

Latest TV show binge-watched: "Empire"

Walk up song: "Dura" by Daddy Yankee

Research at a glance


Credit: ACS Appl. Nano Mater. /Eric Amerling/Yang H. Ku/C&EN/Shutterstock

Whittaker-Brooks is working toward next-generation electronics that incorporate multiple advanced materials within the same device to deliver uninterrupted power. Here, a theoretical device contains a perovskite solar cell that has been optimized to harvest energy from sunlight and a titanium sulfide-containing energy storage unit that has been fine-tuned to efficiently collect the solar cell's energy.

5 /5 FREE ARTICLES LEFT THIS MONTH Remaining
Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.

If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.

ENJOY UNLIMITED ACCES TO C&EN

Materials

Luisa Whittaker-Brooks

Sustainability powerhouse is building multitasking materials for the future

by Matt Davenport
August 19, 2018 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 96, ISSUE 33

09633-cover12-whittakerbrooks.jpg
Credit: Joel Kimmel
Luisa Whittaker-Brooks
09633-cover12-research.jpg
Credit: ACS Appl. Nano Mater./Eric Amerling/Yang H. Ku/C&EN/Shutterstock

Whittaker-Brooks is working toward next-generation electronics that incorporate multiple advanced materials within the same device to deliver uninterrupted power. Here, a theoretical device contains a perovskite solar cell that has been optimized to harvest energy from sunlight and a titanium sulfide-containing energy storage unit that has been fine-tuned to efficiently collect the solar cell’s energy.

Vitals

Current affiliation: University of Utah

Age: 34

Ph.D. alma mater: University at Buffalo

Role model: The late Mildred Dresselhaus. Her contributions laid the groundwork for all the advances we have witnessed in carbon-based electronic and spintronic systems, as well as low-dimensional materials for thermoelectrics.

If I were an element, I would be: Uranium because, via transmutation, I could decay into other elements of the periodic table (at least for a short period of time).

Latest TV show binge-watched: “Empire”

Walk-up song: “Dura” by Daddy Yankee

Three key papers

“Morphology and Optoelectronic Variations Underlying the Nature of the Electron Transport Layer in Perovskite Solar Cells” (ACS Appl. Energy Mater. 2018, DOI: 10.1021/acsaem.7b00147)

“Electroabsorption Spectroscopy Studies of (C4H9NH3)2PbI4 Organic-Inorganic Hybrid Perovskite Multiple Quantum Wells” (J. Phys. Chem. Lett. 2017, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jpclett.7b01741)

“Distinctive Extrinsic Atom Effects on the Structural, Optical, and Electronic Properties of Bi2S3-xSex Solid Solutions” (Chem. Mater. 2016, DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater.6b02081)

For Luisa Whittaker-Brooks, the quest to make the materials of the future started with understanding the shortcomings of the past.

Her team at the University of Utah is exploring a variety of materials to bolster electronic devices, including solar cells and batteries. And the idea isn’t just to make these technologies work better but also to make them do more by bringing optimized, advanced materials together in next-gen, multitasking products.

Whittaker-Brooks grew up in Panama, where most of the power comes from hydroelectric dams. This reliance becomes more dangerous as the impacts of climate change become more severe, she says.

“In Panama, basically our rivers are drying up,” she says. “And that made me think about how I can use other types of alternative energies.”

One approach would be to control the crystal structure of perovskite solar-cell materials to deliver optimal energy-harvesting properties. But Whittaker-Brooks is not restricting her synthesize-and-optimize scheme to one material. Perovskites are just one piece of her puzzle.

To distinguish herself from others in the crowded solar-cell field and to build next-generation devices, she’s engineering a variety of functional materials to one day work together in multifunctional devices.

For instance, her team is investigating the energy-storing behavior of two-dimensional metal chalcogenides, such as titanium sulfide, that could be incorporated into a power source to collect energy harvested from a perovskite solar cell. Such a device could continue delivering power even when the sun’s down.

Whittaker-Brooks’s group is also developing materials that generate electrical energy from heat, potentially providing another power source that works in the dark. Ultimately, the team’s goal is to bring all these materials together in a single device to deliver uninterrupted, sustainable energy.

The team’s materials would also be useful in a number of other devices, Whittaker-Brooks explains, including cell phones, sensors, and even hard drives. In pursuing these diverse applications, she is working to understand the fundamental materials science that she hopes will enable her and others to eventually engineer materials on demand, with specific properties for specific applications.

That’s a tall order, but Whittaker-Brooks has always been a positive, tenacious force in the lab, thriving on challenges, says organic electronics expert Lynn Loo, Whittaker-Brooks’s postdoc adviser at Princeton University. These traits have helped Whittaker-Brooks establish herself as a leader in materials synthesis, characterization, and device fabrication.

“The word ‘relentless’ comes to mind,” Loo says. “She’s a ball of fire.”

X

Article:

This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Leave A Comment

*Required to comment