Mark Hersam Receives $1 Million Grant from W. M. Keck Foundation

Mark Hersam, professor of materials science and engineering, chemistry, and medicine at Northwestern University, has been awarded a $1 million grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation to support his research on graphene, a one-atom-thick sheet of carbon with exceptional mechanical and electrical properties that could ultimately be used to make better electronics and sensors.

The properties of graphene were discovered only within the last decade. It is the thinnest material in the world, and one of the strongest. It can conduct electricity as well as copper, conduct heat better than any other material, and is so thin it is practically transparent. Researchers are still working to understand all of the possibilities that graphene offers.

With the funding, Hersam will develop and characterize techniques for modifying graphene to increase its potential. Hersam and his group will explore adding inorganic and organic materials to graphene with the goal of establishing new classes of two-dimensional nanomaterials with tailored properties. They will employ ultrahigh vacuum scanning tunneling microscopy to characterize and understand chemically modified graphene at the atomic scale. These detailed studies will develop fundamental principles that will guide future efforts to exploit novel graphene-derived nanomaterials in numerous societally pervasive applications, such as information technology, biotechnology, and renewable energy. By characterizing modified graphene, Hersam will help pave the way for new materials for solar cells, batteries, biosensors, medical imaging, integrated circuits, and fiber optic communication.

“Graphene has recently emerged as a leading material for next-generation electronics and related devices,” Hersam said. “However, it is unlikely that graphene alone will meet the diverse requirements for modern-day complex technologies. Through the generous support of the W. M. Keck Foundation, our laboratory will be able to study methods for expanding the functionality of graphene via chemical functionalization, thus broadening and accelerating the impact of this material on widely used applications.”

The W. M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 by William Myron Keck, the founder of The Superior Oil Company. The foundation funds science and engineering research, medical research, and undergraduate education.