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Research Spotlight

Karen Winey

Karen Winey
Materials Science and Engineering
Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Hybrid cars are not an uncommon sight in today’s times. But, some in industry claim that electric cars, which use fuel cells that harness electricity from chemical reactions, will phase out the need for gasoline in automobiles altogether. Karen Winey, professor in the departments of materials science and engineering and chemical and biomolecular engineering, is working to create technology for an efficient, low-temperature fuel cell by creating better polymers using nanotechnology. These polymers are a special group known as ion-containing polymers or ionomers, which carry the ability to conduct an electrical charge across their surfaces. Although these ionomers are already used to conduct electricity generated by the reactions in a fuel cell, Winey is the head of the first group to use scanning transmission electron microscopy to image the placement and conductivity of the electrons in existing ionomers. The results of this research are then used to map out a combination of the ionomers with carbon nanotubes, which are stronger than steel and conduct electrical current better than copper, to create even more efficient ionomers for fuel cell membranes. This will allow for cleaner and greener automobiles and fuel cells with longer lives.