Two Henry Samueli School of Engineering Scientists Win DOE Early Career Awards

Funding will support research in advanced energy and materials science technologies

Mohammad Abdolhosseini Qomi, UCI assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Penghui Cao, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, received Early Career Research Program awards from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. The funding will support the researchers’ projects to develop advanced energy solutions to help mitigate climate change. Debbie Morales, Julie Li / UCI

May, 27, 2021 - The U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science has awarded funding to two University of California, Irvine scientists under its DOE Early Career Research Program.

Mohammad Abdolhosseini Qomi, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Penghui Cao, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, were among 83 researchers selected from university and national laboratory applicants to receive the research awards. The DOE Office of Science is providing both with $150,000 per year for five years to advance basic energy sciences.

Abdolhosseini Qomi, who joined UCI in 2015, conducts fundamental research in interfacial science to discover new reaction pathways for improved carbon dioxide mineralization processes. His goal is to find economical methods for sequestering and using carbon, thereby mitigating untethered emissions of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. The scope of his research extends from the nanometer of interfacial reactions to the mesoscale of crystal growth.

In their award letter, the DOE Office of Science said the funding is meant to aid Abdolhosseini Qomi’s project to study the mechanics and physics of multi-scale porous materials, nano- and meso-chemo-mechanics and engineering advanced materials for sustainable infrastructures.

“I am humbled to receive this prestigious award from the DOE Office of Science,” said Abdolhosseini Qomi. “Only a very small number of early career scientists in the engineering field are awarded this funding, so it is especially gratifying to know that my area of research is acknowledged by the Basic Energy Science’s Geoscience program.”

The DOE recognized Cao’s research into the effects of radiation damage in materials. His project aims to reveal the role of short-range order on thermodynamics and kinetics of radiation defects in high-entropy alloys and to evaluate the mechanistic strategy for controlling defects – a perspective discussed in a recent viewpoint article.

Cao said testing this hypothesis will advance our fundamental understanding of the mechanisms underlying extraordinary properties and facilitate design strategies to achieve tunable radiation performance. He added this work will facilitate the development and deployment of advanced power plants to harness nuclear energy.

“I am very grateful for the DOE support that will enable us to study the fundamental science of nuclear energy systems,” said Cao, who joined UCI in January 2019. “Nuclear energy currently provides more than half of America’s carbon-free electricity and together with other renewable energy sources will make meaningful progress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and hit our climate goals.”

DOE Early Career Research Program awards are available to untenured, tenure-track assistant or associate professors at U.S. academic institutions or full-time employees at DOE national laboratories. Awardees are selected from a large pool of candidates based on peer review by outside scientific experts.

Research projects must fall within the Office of Science’s eight major thrusts, advanced scientific computing research, basic energy sciences, biological and environmental research, fusion energy sciences, high energy physics, nuclear physics, isotope R&D and production and accelerator R&D and production.

“Maintaining our nation’s brain trust of world-class scientists and researchers is one of DOE’s top priorities – and that means we need to give them the resources they need to succeed early on in their careers,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “These awardees show exceptional potential to help us tackle America’s toughest challenges and secure our economic competitiveness for decades to come.”

– Brian Bell / UCI

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