Carnegie Mellon University
March 29, 2012

Press Release: Carnegie Mellon University's Jonathan A. Malen Receives Career Award From National Science Foundation

Malen Recognized for Innovative Work With Hybrid Materials in Plastics and Semiconductors

Contact: Chriss Swaney / 412-268-5776 /

Jonathan MalenPITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University's Jonathan A. Malen was awarded a National Science Foundation Early Career Development Award of $400,000 over the next five years for novel research into organic-inorganic hybrid materials that bridge the properties of semiconductors with the scalability of plastics.

"I'm extremely pleased with this award because it will fuel my experimental studies of how energy in the form of heat is transferred through organic-inorganic hybrid materials," said Malen, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

Malen reports that he is developing a laser-based technique to study the spectral dependence of phonon transport in hybrid materials. Phonons are vibrations that carry thermal energy throughout solid materials. As white light is composed of a broad spectrum of colors (e.g., a rainbow), heat in a material is carried by phonons with a broad spectrum of colors.

"We are trying to track the amount of heat that each color transports through a specific material - hybrid materials are particularly interesting because their scalability makes them attractive as next generation materials for electronics, solar cells and thermoelectrics," Malen said. "The benefits to understanding thermal energy transport has great interest to the electronics industry where manufacturers want to produce smaller and more efficient parts for everything from cellphones to laptop computers, as well as the energy industry, where heat is an undesired byproduct of making electricity from fossil fuel or renewable resources."

Nadine Aubry, head of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Carnegie Mellon, praised Malen as an outstanding researcher and a talented teacher who engages students in his breakthrough work.

Malen also is developing an integrated educational tool dubbed the "Phonon-Simulator," a model spring-mass system that simulates vibrations in matter. This educational kit will be paired with online software and deployed throughout the Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) to introduce the origins of heat transfer through an interactive educational program.

"The local focus will be under-represented pre-college students from PPS as well as students at Carnegie Mellon," Malen said. Broader distribution will be achieved by workshops later this year at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair and the Siemens Competition, aimed at jointly recruiting scholars into engineering.

Before joining CMU in 2009, Malen was a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellow at the University of California at Berkeley, where he earned his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. He earned his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in 2000 from the University of Michigan and his master's degree in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also was the recipient of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Award and the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund Doctoral New Investigator Award in 2011.                                     

Jonathan Malen's NSF Career Award will fuel his studies of how energy in the form of heat is transferred through organic-inorganic hybrid materials.