MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – While the immediate use for the solar house built by students from West Virginia University was determined more than a year ago — it will be entered into the 2013 U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon in October — its future use was recently secured, thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation.
Co-principal investigators Konstantinos Sierros, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering , and Dimitris Korakakis, associate professor in the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, will work with an interdisciplinary team of students and faculty to use the home as a test-bed for the use of nanotechnology in developing sustainable, healthy and smart indoor environments.
Participating faculty include representatives from the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources; Eberly College of Arts and Sciences; Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design; P.I. Reed School of Journalism; and the College of Education and Human Services.
The project, known as NanoFit, which is short for nanosystems fabrication, integration and testing, will seek to create a number of project-based opportunities for students to combine cutting-edge nanotechnology research and product development, device integration and system performance testing in an innovative environment.
“The three main research areas covered in the grant — energy harvesting, storage and management; indoor health monitoring; and smart living—make the solar house an ideal test-bed facility” Sierros said. “Examples of research projects that could be conducted include the fabrication, integration and testing of nanostructured flexible solar cells, solar-powered water treatment systems and smart biometric sensors.”
The $200,000 grant, which was one of only nine funded by the NSF, leverages the existing framework of WVU’s new nanosystems minor. Students pursuing a minor in the discipline are required to complete a capstone requirement by engaging in interdisciplinary nanosystems research within host faculty labs. The minor was established, in part, through support provided by a previous NSF Nanotechnology Undergraduate Education or Nanotechnology Undergraduate Education award made to WVU in 2008.
“The idea of using the solar house as the center piece for the capstone projects, where students can utilize their knowledge of nanotechnology and implement nano-systems and devices in a hands-on manner, was viewed as highly innovative by the NSF review panel,” said Korakakis, who served as the principal investigator for WVU’s entry into the Solar Decathlon. “The house can also be used as a community learning studio for educating the local community on the benefits of sustainable, smart-home living.
“Our goal is for WVU students to grow together as collaborating professionals using this unique environment,” said Korakakis.
The Nanotechnology Undergraduate Education program is designed to address a critical need for workers in nanotechnology industries; there is a projected global demand for 6 million workers by 2020, with only 400,000 currently in place.