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Energy, Sustainability and the Environment

An overwhelming scientific consensus exists that human activity is having a negative impact on the global environment. Finding sustainable approaches to capturing and converting the energy that society needs and integrating scientific advances with changes in social policy are challenges that have critical consequences for future generations.

Penn Arts and Sciences will invest in a variety of initiatives designed to advance research and convert understanding into policy.

Eric Schelter, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, discusses his work to develop environmentally friendly separations processes for high-value rare earth metals in his 60-Second Lecture, “The Chemistry and Geopolitics of the Rare Earth Elements.”

Self-described “chemistry fanatic” Carol Wang, C’17, has already made her mark in the field of her choice through VIPER, the Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research. The dual-degree program, offered jointly by Arts and Sciences and Engineering, is designed to involve students in energy research early. VIPER co-director and Professor of Chemistry Andrew Rappe helped connect Wang with Patrick Walsh, Alan MacDiarmid Term Professor of Chemistry, while she was a freshman. Since then she has been contributing to the lab’s research on new ways to create a family of compounds called diaryl sulfoxides in the lab—work that has numerous applications in pharmaceuticals and materials science. Following her sophomore year, Wang achieved the status of co-author on a scientific paper.

Professor of Chemistry Andrew Rappe and his lab are working to develop a thin-film process and solar cell technology based on a new class of cost-effective materials—ferroelectric semiconductors. Their discoveries will help pave the way for the future of less expensive solar cell fabrication techniques.

To strengthen engagement in energy-related research, Penn Arts and Sciences will recruit additional faculty with expertise in energy capture, storage and conversion.

In addition to appointments in chemistry and materials science, we will build our expertise in other areas of the natural sciences including evolution, ecology, and physiology.

Irina Marinov, Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, is a climate modeler who works on understanding the role of oceans in regulating atmospheric carbon dioxide and the global climate. Her recent work documents the important role of phytoplankton in regulating greenhouse gasses. “We don’t think of the climatic role of phytoplankton when we swim in the ocean,” says Marinov, “but these microscopic ocean plans photosynthesize just as much as land plants.”