UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Lei Zhang, a materials science and engineering graduate student at Penn State, received an MRS graduate student award for research he presented at the 2016 Materials Research Society (MRS) Spring Meeting, held March 28-April 1 in Phoenix, Arizona. Zhang was one of seven students to receive the gold award. The awards recognize students whose academic achievements and materials research display a high level of excellence and distinction. According to the MRS, many previous winners have moved on to highly distinguished careers, as well as to leadership positions within MRS.
Zhang won the award for his work on designing a new type of highly transparent conductor that could have applications in consumer electronics and solar cells. Working with his faculty adviser, Roman Engel-Herbert, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, and a team of other researchers, Zhang helped investigate the use of a new material that could be used as a cost-effective transparent conductor. Currently, more than 90 percent of the display market today uses a material known as indium tin oxide, which is a semiconductor and tends to be expensive. Zhang and his colleagues found that two metal materials that are one-twentieth of the cost of indium tin oxide — strontium vanadate and calcium vanadate — conducted electricity and were transparent, which is contrary to the prevailing ideas in developing transparent conductors. The team’s research, which was published in the journal Nature Materials, has been featured in numerous media outlets, including Fortune and Discover Magazine. The technology they researched was also selected for a TechConnect Innovation Award.
Prior to beginning his graduate studies in 2012 at Penn State, Zhang worked as a process integration engineer at Sunpreme Inc., a photovoltaic startup company at Sunnyvale, California. He received his bachelor’s degree in applied physics at Wuhan University in China.