Rutgers logo
Department of Materials Science and Engineering

Research Interests

Solar Cell Processing Research: The Birnie group’s recent research has focused on electrochemical deposition of thin semiconductor layers targeting mid-range band-gap values for incorporation into future tandem design solar cells paired with silicon. They have worked on both Cu2O and CdSe, which each have band-gaps near 2eV. Earlier work had concentrated on dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSC’s), which may be suitable for scaling to roll-to-roll printing processes. Their DSSC research especially examined templating methods to enhance the coupled electrical performance for the electrolyte.

Solar Usage in Transportation Systems: When working on solar cell processing it is also important to understand the bigger picture about how solar is implemented for usage in systems. The group’s work in this area has included aspects of solar tracker design for improving overall energy capture as well as examining solar usage in conjunction with electric and hybrid vehicles. They are particularly interested in how the practical usage of these technologies together will influence the engineering design.

Batteries for Grid Storage: When building toward more expansive solar installation it becomes much more important to have electrical storage for the grid. This amounts to a massive amount of storage so cost and long term cyclability are key issues.  The group is especially interested in systems where ceramic materials are enablers to achieve the high performance desired. Various compositions are candidates for electrolytes in future Li and Na battery systems.

Sol-Gel Coating Quality Studies: Prof. Birnie has extensive experience in making coatings from solutions, especially using the spin-coating technique, and in applications requiring the sol-gel chemistry for achieving useful phases and microstructures. Specific research topics have emphasized coating quality studies and understanding of various defect formation mechanisms. Striations, chuck-marks, and skin failures all have important signatures that allow for diagnosis and improvement of coating thickness uniformity for many important applications. 

Cultivation of Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Research in the Birnie group aims to provide innovation in areas impacting clean energy (solar, EVs, batteries, etc.). Students are encouraged to develop research ideas with practical goals in mind. Patents are used as frequent examples in Prof. Birnie’s solar and battery classes. Prof. Birnie also networks with other entrepreneurship groups on campus to promote an ecosystem of innovation and to assist students with their new-business development ambitions.