Toby Nelson Receives Two Prestigious Postdoctoral Research Fellowships -Mellon College of Science - Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Toby Nelson Receives Two Prestigious Postdoctoral Research Fellowships

Carnegie Mellon University postdoctoral research associate Dr. Toby Nelson has the rare honor of receiving two prestigious fellowships — a Ford Foundation Fellowship and a United Negro College Fund/Merck Postdoctoral Science Research Fellowship — that will support his research on designing plastics that have the potential for creating cheap, flexible, and easy-to-produce solar cells.

Nelson, who works in the laboratory of Chemistry Professor Rick McCullough, is creating a new class of plastics to improve current solar cell technology. Although the most common type of solar cell uses silicon to absorb sunlight, a new breed of solar cell utilize plastics, like regioregular poly(3-hexylthiophenes) (rr-P3HTs), to reduce costs. However, rr-P3HTs absorb only a fraction of light being emitted by the sun, limiting their efficiency.

Nelson is working with McCullough’s company Plextronics, which manufactures rr-P3HTs and supplies a large portion of the materials used in polymer solar cells today, to create more efficient solar cells. Specifically, Nelson is creating novel plastics that will absorb more light over a broad range of wavelengths. Recently, he synthesized a light-absorbing polymer that is capable of transporting charge for electricity production. His ultimate goal is to optimize these light-absorbing polymers and use them to fabricate a new class of polymer solar cells.

“Toby Nelson’s creative synthetic insights position him well to make a significant breakthrough in raising the efficiency of organic solar cells,” said McCullough. “I fully expect that Toby will be a scientific leader in this field.”

As a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, Nelson will receive one year of financial support and will be eligible to attend the national Conference of Ford Fellows to interact with established and emerging scholars in diverse fields.

As a UNCF·Merck Postdoctoral Fellow, Nelson will be given a generous stipend and a research grant to cover research expenses, such as the purchase of equipment and supplies, and travel costs for attending scientific meetings.  In addition, he will be mentored by a Merck scientist and have the opportunity to attend “Fellows Day” to meet other Fellows and visit the Merck Research Laboratories in Blue Bell, PA.

Nelson earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry in 2007 from the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. While there, he received many accolades, including the Alfred P. Sloan Scholarship for outstanding incoming minority Ph.D. graduate student, the Bouknight Teaching Award for excellence in teaching undergraduate organic chemistry, and the E. I. DuPont Award in recognition of outstanding graduate research from the National Organization of the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers.


By: Amy Pavlak