McCormick Magazine

South Korean catalyst fuels materials research

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voorheesWhile McCormick continues to seek out international collaborations, other countries are looking here for partnerships as well. In South Korea, for example, an initiative called Brain Korea 21 that funds interactions between South Korean and American universities spurred Wooyoung Lee, a materials science professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, to contact Peter Voorhees, the Frank C. Engelhart Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and chair of the department, about a collaboration. A deal was struck and in 2007 Voorhees traveled to South Korea for the kickoff meeting — which, it turned out, was scheduled for Thanksgiving Day.

"I said, 'Do you realize that's Thanksgiving?'" Voorhees says. "And they said, 'No, but could you still come?' So I was the only Westerner in the hotel."

Since that Thanksgiving two and a half years ago, the two professors have traveled to each other's universities once or twice a year to combine research strengths in the field of nanowires. Lee explains why he chose McCormick for the $2 million program. "We wanted to work with a good university, and Northwestern has one of the top materials science departments in the country. And it shows: Northwestern has been very active, and our collaboration has developed well."

Since the collaboration started, Voorhees and several other materials science and engineering faculty members from McCormick have traveled to Yonsei to give talks and meet with professors. Several Yonsei faculty members and students have in turn come to North-west-ern to use McCormick's equipment, such as the three-dimensional atom probe, for research.

"It gives our graduate students interactions with people overseas," Voorhees says. "And Northwestern benefits from bringing our name overseas."

Lee first sought a collaborator because he had developed a simple way to grow single-crystal nanowires that have unique transport and thermoelectric properties but needed Voorhees's expertise in the growth mechanisms of nanowires. "He knows the physics of thermoelectric materials, and I help with the mechanism," Voorhees says.

The professors say efficient thermoelectric nanowires could replace Freon in appliances like refrigerators, and that would reduce pollution. "It's hard to come up with materials that are efficient enough to do that," Voorhees says. "If this works, it would have a big impact."

Because the two see each other only about twice a year, most of their communication happens via e-mail. When Lee visited Evanston recently, he and Voorhees set aside an afternoon to discuss a paper they hope to publish. Both hope the collaboration continues for years to come.

"Peter has been very generous and has been a good friend," Lee says. "Our strengths make a good combination."

"I had never been to South Korea before," Voorhees says. "It has given me a window into a new culture that I wouldn't have known without this. And it's been delightful. Hopefully we can keep this relationship going in the long term. It can be hard with schedules, but it's collaborations like these that create big progress."

—Emily Ayshford