March 25, 2016
Thanks to UVA’s partnership with MAXNET Energy, department of chemistry graduate students like Zhongwen Luo and Aly Verlander will have the opportunity to learn from some of the best scientists in the world.
UVA Partners with a World Leader in Research
Among world organizations dedicated to fundamental research, Germany’s Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science ranks among the most prolific and innovative. Across Germany, 83 Max Planck Institutes conduct research in the natural sciences, life sciences, social sciences, and the humanities, focusing on the world’s most complex scientific and societal challenges.
The Max Planck Society partners each year with thousands of research colleagues around the world. However, it is extremely rare that the society formally invites universities to participate in research initiatives. It was a mark of distinction when labs from two UVA schools—the Engineering School and the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences—were asked to join MAXNET Energy. This consortium of seven Max Planck Institutes is dedicated to advancing research on new, renewable, environmentally friendly, and economical energy sources.
“Students will have the experience of conducting research in different lab settings, developing new skill sets and working with a range of advisors and mentors.”
Eight UVA research groups from four departments—chemistry; mechanical and aerospace engineering; materials science and engineering; chemical engineering—will participate in MAXNET Energy. To date, two collaborative seed projects, all based upon UVA research, have been initiated:
- A project to develop new and inexpensive processes for the conversion and distribution of liquefied natural gas;
- A project focused on new materials for photocatalytic and/or electrocatalytic production of fuels from water, which can be driven by energy derived from the sun.
Developing the Next Generation of Scientists
The MAXNET Energy project creates a host of opportunities for UVA researchers and students. The Max Planck Institutes maintain state-of-the-art facilities, staffed by thousands of highly trained technicians. “We will be able to use equipment that would not be available otherwise,” said chemistry professor T. Brent Gunnoe, co-director of the University side of the partnership.
The relationship’s major impact will be on people. For faculty, this means extending their network of collaborators to include world-class researchers. For postdoctoral fellows, graduate students and, eventually, undergraduates, MAXNET Energy provides a superb arena for professional development. Students will be part of an international team that will meet regularly, both online and in person, sharing updates and providing feedback.
“Beyond the research discoveries we make, the ultimate measure of our success is getting our students across the ocean,” said co-director Robert Davis, the Earnest Jackson Oglesby Professor of Engineering and Applied Science. “In addition to presenting at meetings, students will have the experience of conducting research in different lab settings, developing new skill sets and working with a range of advisors and mentors.”
Sustaining the Partnership
Both UVA and the Max Planck Society believe strongly in the MAXNET partnership, and each has contributed $2 million to support the first five years. Initial UVA funding is coming from the President’s Fund for Excellence as well as the two UVA schools involved in the initiative. The objective of this joint $4 million initiative is to develop a UVA-Max Planck Center for New Energy Processes within three years, expanding opportunities for faculty and students and seed funding for additional research projects.