Brooklyn, NY, Nov. 30, 2010 – Michele Vittadello, an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York and at the CUNY Graduate School and University Center, was awarded $601,491 by the U.S. Air Force’s Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) for a proposed four-year research project.
Vittadello and a team of experts from Medgar Evers College and Rutgers University will create semi-artificial devices that mimic different aspects of the photosynthetic process. This multi-disciplinary endeavor, led by Vittadello, contributes to a larger, national effort to discover untapped sources of renewable energy. The grant will allow specialists in the areas of natural photosynthesis, molecular biology, bioengineering, electrochemistry, materials science, and surface science to come together and combine their expertise and resources. Their research will not only provide insight on how to improve traditional electrochemical devices – such as batteries, fuel cells, and solar cells – it will also, in Vittadello’s words, “provide a paradigm for future discoveries in the context of renewable energy resources.”
“In the end we want to make a device that produces hydrogen gas,” says Vittadello, “the fuel of the future.”
Part of their research will be conducted in a dedicated lab within the Physical, Environmental, and Computer Sciences Department of the College’s new state-of-the-art science facility, Academic Building 1, which opened its doors for the first time this past September. Vittadello plans to use the technological offerings of the $247 million-dollar building, specifically a 5-channel Potentiostat-Galvanostat with impedance spectroscopy capabilities. “Students from Medgar Evers College will be exposed to cutting-edge research and major research institutions like Rutgers,” says Vittadello. From the outset of the project, Medgar Evers’ students at all levels of their academic careers, from undergraduate to post-graduate, have had the opportunity to participate in Vittadello’s groundbreaking study. This past summer, an undergraduate, Rickanda Smith, helped Vittadello conduct research at Rutgers. Smith will continue to assist Vittadello throughout the academic year, sponsored by the National Science Foundation’s Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation Program (LSAMP). James Baird, a post-baccalaureate student interested in pursuing graduate studies in Bioanalytical Chemistry, is also assisting Vittadello on a part-time basis, supported by the grant.
AFOSR’s main goal – “to discover, shape, and champion basic science that profoundly impacts the future Air Force” – is exemplified in Vittadello’s research project and its far-reaching implications. GPS, lasers, the computer mouse, and other popular technological advancements that revolutionized modern life have their origins in research funded by AFSOR. Past recipients of AFOSR grants include researchers associated with prestigious institutions such as the University of Maryland, Harvard, MIT, and Yale University.
During the 48-month period in which the research project will run, Vittadello is excited about the prospect of new discoveries: “The program timeline of the grant is well defined,” says Vittadello, “but there is room for unexpected exploration in new directions and we are strongly invited to do so by the funding agency. We are going to activate collaborations with different institutions to achieve our goals.”