University of South Carolina

Sustainability in research, practice

By Steven Powell,, 803-777-1923

The vocabulary used in Andrew Greytak’s research group includes phrases like quantum dots and semiconductor nanowires. That’s not unexpected for a professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry who explores materials chemistry at its most fundamental levels.

Another word is fairly common, too: sustainability. And it applies both to his research and teaching.

In the most general sense, Greytak is interested in materials that absorb and emit light and are also conductive. Those materials are the basic building blocks for all sorts of energy generation, conversion and storage devices. So a broad goal of his work is to develop better, more sustainable methods of dealing with civilization’s need for energy.

He carries that same idea into his every day teaching at USC, trying to find ways for students to relate to the chemistry curriculum.

“Most of my students in general chemistry are not going to become chemists, so it’s a challenge to maintain their interest,” he said. “But I’ve found that sustainability is something that a lot of them are already interested in, and they appreciate learning the concepts as they relate to chemistry.”

Greytak has set out to help bridge the gap between researchers working in sustainability and groups interested in applying their work in practice at the university. Late last spring he organized the Sustainable Energy Research and Practice Showcase at USC’s Green Quad.

SERP showcaseHalf a dozen research groups sent representatives to present their work in developing sustainable energy alternatives. Topics ranged from Thomas Vogt’s work on phosphorescent materials for solid-state lighting to Krishna Mandal’s research on thin-film photovoltaics.

Groups involved in putting sustainable ideas into practice around campus included the Built Environment Team of Sustainable Carolina, Net Impact and Gamecock Biodiesel.

“We had about 50 participants with lots of good conversation,” Greytak said. “We had members of the Sierra Club talking with researchers who are working to develop new ways to burn coal more efficiently and cleanly.”

Greytak also participated in a faculty workshop early in the summer break, “Sustainability in the Curriculum.” The goal was to help faculty develop the kind of teaching that Greytak has successfully integrated into his undergraduate teaching and bring new ideas to the attention of the broader group.

For Greytak, thinking about how to bridge the gap between research and the real world started in earnest when he was completing a postdoctoral fellowship at MIT.

Andrew and Yi“My mentor, Daniel Nocera, really set an example in coupling a fundamental scientific interest to an interest for society,” Greytak said. “There are millions of people who need greater access to the things we enjoy. People who don’t have an electric grid, people who don’t have a lot of infrastructure.”

Sending students out into the workplace who have a better understanding of some of the sustainability issues confronting the culture is one way to make a difference, according to Greytak.

“When you look at the increasing demands for energy, for water, for other natural resources that are imposed by the increasing world population, you realize that these are problems that our society is going to have to grapple with,” he said. “And students with this kind of information in hand will be better prepared to make wise career decisions, business decisions and consumer decisions going forward.”

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Posted: 07/02/13 @ 6:00 PM | Updated: 07/10/13 @ 9:06 AM | Permalink