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Light Source Researcher Receives DOE Early Career Grant


Supporting cutting-edge research that could impact solar energy technologies, the Department of Energy has granted a prestigious Early Career Award to Stony Brook’s Thomas K. Allison. Allison, who holds a joint appointment in the Stony Brook University departments of Physics and Chemistry, was recognized  for his work on developing new light sources and techniques to follow the motions of molecular systems in real-time.

Thomas K. Allison, PhD
Thomas K. Allison, PhD

Allison will receive $150,000 per year for five years for his project, entitled, “Ultrafast Dynamics of Molecules on Surfaces Studied with Time‐Resolved XUV Photoelectron Spectroscopy,” which was selected by the Office of Basic Energy Sciences.

“We invest in promising young researchers early in their careers to support lifelong discovery science to fuel the nation’s innovation system,” said Cherry Murray, director of DOE’s Office of Science. “We are proud of the accomplishments these young scientists already have made, and look forward to following their achievements in years to come.”

The DOE Early Career Research Program supports the development of individual research programs of outstanding scientists early in their careers and stimulates research careers in the disciplines supported by the DOE Office of Science. This year the Department of Energy issued 49 total awards, 27 of which went to Universities and 22 to DOE’s national laboratories.​

“This is an extraordinary distinction for Prof. Allison and provides him with critical resources needed to pursue his research on light sources and imaging techniques,” said Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. “I am a strong proponent of funding early career scientists – allowing them the freedom to pursue their innovative ideas. Prof. Allison’s work is extremely promising and this Department of Energy Early Career award is well deserved.”

​​The efficient transfer of charge between molecules and semiconductors is essential for several solar energy technologies, including dye-sensitized solar cells and heterogeneous photocatalysis.

The ​Allison Research Group ​has developed a unique laser-based source of extreme ultraviolet light for studying these charge transfer processes, with pulse durations measured in femtosecond (1 femtosecond = 10-15 s). First, ultrashort pump pulses excite the surface the same way light from the sun would, and then ultrashort pulses of extreme ultraviolet light (XUV) are used to follow the motion of the electrons and holes at the surface. The experiments will be performed in collaboration with the research group of Prof. Michael White, who is an expert on surface science and surface photochemistry.

“It has taken us three years to build the advanced laser technology necessary to perform these experiments. In the XUV, our laser-based light source is now almost as bright as a synchrotron light source such as the NSLS II, but our pulse durations are 1,000 times shorter, allowing us to capture the very fast dynamics of charge transfer reactions,” said Allison.

“In collaboration with Mike White’s group, we have now built an extra-ordinary instrument for time-resolved surface photo-emission. I am very grateful for the long-term vision of Stony Brook University and the funding agencies which have allowed us to pursue this type of research that can require years of building before producing scientific publications. This new funding from the Department of Energy will allow us to study the dynamics of molecules at surfaces with unprecedented detail. It should also be noted that it takes graduate students and postdocs with extraordinary fortitude to perform this research, and we have those here at Stony Brook.”

Allison joined Stony Brook University in 2013 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship with at JILA, a joint institute run by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado. He received his B.S. in Engineering Physics from Cornell University in 2003 and his PhD in Physics from Berkeley in 2010.

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