The US Department of Energy is tasked with supporting scientific research in energy and in other physical sciences—a duty that is increasingly important in an energy-scarce world. Each year, DOE’s Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) program offers opportunities for outstanding graduate students in STEM fields to pursue their thesis research at a DOE laboratory, giving them access to national lab resources, as well as the opportunity to work alongside a DOE scientist.

Christopher Lee Hanselman, Ph.D. student in chemical engineering, was recently received an SCGSR award. Over the summer, he will be working at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in Pittsburgh to pursue his doctoral thesis research in process systems engineering. The award also provides him with a stipend for living expenses.

Two examples of a perovskite lattice

Source: Chris Hanselman

An image of a perovskite lattice, or a regular repeated three-dimensional arrangement of atoms, ions, or molecules in perovskite. The left image shows iron (blue), oxygen (red), and barium (grey). The right image contains some random dopings of indium (green) as well, added for color.

“I’ve advised Chris for five semesters now,” says Chrysanthos Gounaris, assistant professor of chemical engineering. “He’s very strong academically, very scholarly.” Gounaris said that Hanselman is the first SCSGR awardee that NETL has had, noting that it, “is a huge honor for our department.”

Hanselman’s research focuses on the application of mathematical optimization in designing nanostructured materials. Essentially, Hanselman aims to provide material experts with a way to speed up new material discovery. He does this by translating questions that arise during the material design process into problems that can be solved using well-established optimization algorithms. Through mathematical optimization, material data can be rigorously and systematically searched to identify the optimal solution to a given problem. This process, in turn, allows experts to synthesize the best possible overall material structures.

The NETL group is working to synthesize, characterize, and model at the molecular level the perovskite material—work that we can further support by applying mathematical optimization.

Chris Hanselman, Ph.D. candidate, Chemical Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University

A significant benefit of this award is the direct collaboration it facilitates between Hanselman and experimental and computational NETL scientists, allowing him to apply his research practically. “We’re working with a group of material experts who are developing high-performance perovskite materials with potential applications in future energy technologies,” says Hanselman. Perovskites are materials whose crystal structure gives them several practical properties, such as conductivity and magnetoresistance. “The NETL group is working to synthesize, characterize, and model at the molecular level the perovskite material—work that we can further support by applying mathematical optimization.” 

Learn more
Visit the SCGSR website for more information on applying for an award.

In regards to his own research, experimenting with a tangible material will allow Hanselman to answer design questions that would have been difficult to explore solely in a theoretical space. Moreover, his work relies on results from a computational chemistry method called density functional theory (DFT), which is a way to approximate the electronic structure of materials. The NETL project is also reliant on DFT calculations, and so Hanselman hopes to gain a better appreciation and understanding of those by observing how they are carried out in the perovskite project.

Having started his work at the NETL on June 1, Hanselman plans to remain there until the end of August.