Department of Energy awards early-career award to UC engineer

UC Assistant Professor Sarah Watzman is researching energy conversion materials

University of Cincinnati mechanical engineer Sarah Watzman recently received the U.S. Department of Energy's Early Career Research Award.

As a university-based researcher, Watzman will receive $750,000 over the next five years to cover summer salary and research expenses.

“I am honored to have received this award,” said Watzman, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in UC's College of Engineering and Applied Science.

“Obtaining such substantial funding for research this early in my career will be foundational in establishing my independent research career here at UC. I am thrilled to be able to begin work that I find so incredibly exciting and critical to furthering the field of energy conversion materials.”

Professor Sarah Watzman

Professor Sarah Watzman. Photo/Corrie Stookey/CEAS Marketing

Watzman’s research focuses on recovering waste heat, produced by energy generation processes in products such as automobiles, into electricity using magnetic fields, making such systems run much more efficiently.

Watzman’s award and ongoing work demonstrate UC's commitment to research as described in its strategic direction, Next Lives Here.

“Entering the engineering field was a personal interest in wanting to do something that was good for the world,” Watzman said. “Engineering with a cause is really what brought me into this area.”

“This is a great reflection of the world-class research going on in CEAS," UC College of Engineering an Applied Science Dean John Weidner said. "This award is extremely competitive because the applicants include not only university professors but also very talented researchers at national laboratories.

"I am very excited to see how this work helps address global energy challenges,” Weidner said.

“Entering the engineering field was a personal interest in wanting to do something that was good for the world

Sarah Watzman Professor of Mechanical Engineering

As much as 65 percent of the heat an automobile produces is wasted and released into the atmosphere. Using thermoelectricity, she is investigating heat-to-electricity energy conversion. If you have a material that has a hot end and a cool end, as in a muffler at the back of a car, the difference in temperature creates a voltage that one can harness as electricity. Watzman specifically focuses on how magnetism can increase the conversion from heat to electricity

How to start efficiently and effectively harnessing that electricity, as of this stage in the research, comes down to material. Watzman is focused on finding materials that can convert heat to electricity efficiently. This can be fed back into a product’s electrical system. In this work, she is concentrating on Weyl semimetals, which were discovered in 2015.

If you imagine each car recovering almost all of the heat it produces, therefore increasing fuel efficiency, you can see why the Department of Energy took notice of Watzman’s work.

Teri Reed, assistant vice president of research development in UC’s Office of Research tied Watzman’s award in with the university’s overall research momentum.

“A prestigious early career award such as Sarah’s not only increases award dollars, but also improves our reputation and research culture, especially when she does this in her first academic year as a professor,” Reed said. “We knew Sarah was one of our shining stars, but it is great that others recognize this as well.”

The Department of Energy selected 73 scientists to receive significant funding for research through the award. Of the 73 recipients, 46 came from U.S. universities.

“Supporting our nation’s most talented and creative researchers in their early career years is crucial to building America’s scientific workforce and sustaining America’s culture of innovation,” U.S. Sec.of Energy Rick Perry said.

“We congratulate these young researchers on their significant accomplishments to date and look forward to their achievements in the years ahead.”

To be eligible for the federal award, a researcher must be an untenured, tenure-track assistant or associate professor at a U.S. academic institution or a full-time employee at a Department of Energy national laboratory who received a Ph.D. within the past 10 years. Research topics are required to fall within one of six major programs within the agency's Office of Science:

  • Advanced Scientific Computing Research.
  • Basic Energy Sciences (Watzman’s area).
  • Biological and Environmental Research.
  • Fusion Energy Sciences.
  • High Energy Physics.
  • Nuclear Physics.

Learn more about Watzman’s work by visiting her Energy Conversion Materials Laboratory website.

Featured image at top: Professor Sarah Watzman on the University of Cincinnati campus. Photo/Corrie Stookey/CEAS Marketing

Innovation Lives Here

The University of Cincinnati is classified as a Research 1 institution by the Carnegie Commission, is ranked in the National Science Foundation's Top-35 public research universities and secured a spot on Reuter’s World’s Most Innovative Universities list. UC's students and faculty investigate problems and innovate solutions with real-world impact. Next Lives Here.

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