Research News

UB chemist Luis Velarde lands coveted NSF CAREER award

By CHARLOTTE HSU

Published March 12, 2018

“Dr. Velarde’s innovative research will expedite the development of new materials, enabling scientists to solve challenging problems in areas from health care to alternative energy.”
Venu Govindaraju, vice president for research and economic development
Portrait of Luis Velarde.

Luis Velarde

Luis Velarde, UB assistant professor of chemistry, has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award, one of the most prestigious honors the agency offers in support of early-career faculty.

The funding illustrates UB’s success in attracting some of the world’s finest young researchers to Western New York.

Velarde’s CAREER grant, worth $665,000, will support his work on creating research tools to speed development of materials for purposes such as energy storage, medical imaging, sensing and more.  

“The NSF CAREER program recognizes the potential in young researchers to become leaders in their field, and when awarded to UB faculty, attests to the quality of scholars attracted to our university and the region,” says Venu Govindaraju, vice president for research and economic development. “Dr. Velarde’s innovative research will expedite the development of new materials, enabling scientists to solve challenging problems in areas from health care to alternative energy.”

Velarde joined UB in 2013. His research aims to help scientists fill crucial gaps in their knowledge of nanoparticles, tiny particles that could have utility in batteries, medical imaging, electronic devices and industrial coatings.

Currently, it’s difficult to effectively study how such materials interact with their immediate surroundings, a property that can affect a material’s ability to function.

Velarde’s lab will use the CAREER grant to address this challenge. His team will invent new tools for analyzing the nanoparticle’s interfacial region, including how molecules on the particle’s surface interact with and bind to molecules and ions in the area directly around the particle. Such cooperative interactions are critical in determining how the particles function when suspended in electrolyte solutions and gels.

By improving scientists’ understanding of surface chemistry, Velarde’s research aims to facilitate the design of more efficient nanoparticles for myriad uses.

“This is a fundamental area of study that is often neglected,” Velarde says. “The chemical and electrical properties of the entire interfacial region are very important. They determine the fate, function and processing of new nanomaterials.”

The NSF funding will also enable Velarde to design kits containing materials that K-12 students can use to build devices for detecting various particles. These student-designed sensors will be used in classroom activities that teach scientific principles tied to light, electronics and nanomaterials — all of which are relevant to Velarde’s research.