Sang Eon Han
Assistant Professor Sang Eon Han.

Sang Eon Han, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of New Mexico, is the recipient of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award.

The $500,000 award begins June 1, 2016 and continues through May 31, 2021. Han's project is titled “Symmetry Control in Photonic Nanostructures for Enhanced Optical Properties.”

Han said the goal of the project is to research the effect of symmetry on the optical properties of photonic materials and explore the full implications of the symmetry effect on energy applications. Control of symmetry in metallic nanostructures can increase light absorption in optoelectronic devices, including thin-film solar cells. Symmetry control in biomimetic structures — structures that mimic a biological system — could enable the efficient blocking of sunlight during summer months with extremely thin coatings. As a result, the research could lead to advances in products designed to enhance energy efficiency in solar panels and heat-management materials, such as are used in the construction of buildings.

The research in thin films could also aid in the development of ultra-thin displays for various devices, possibly to a width as thin as 5 to 10 microns, which is a fraction of the width of a human hair.

The research will be conducted in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the Center for High Technology Materials at UNM.

The grant also includes a community-service element, where Han will design programs for local K-12 schools to enhance nanoscience education, especially with the Native American community. The team will also make animation clips of the experimental demonstrations in the research in collaboration with local teachers through UNM’s NSF Research Experiences for Teachers program to help encourage this population to develop and interest in science and engineering.

Han, who came to UNM in 2012, said the award will help bolster his academic research career as well as make important discoveries in photonics and optics.

“This award will be very beneficial to advancing our knowledge in how nanostructure symmetry affects the light-matter interactions and realizing the full implications of the symmetry effects in energy applications,” he said.

The NSF CAREER program is geared toward helping early-career faculty get strong starts on their academic careers. The award is NSF’s most prestigious award in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the community. Such activities should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.