FULBRIGHT ON CAMPUS For Brazilian Scientist Itamar Borges You Can't Beat Tech for Research
Written by Toni Salama
Itamar Borges, Jr., is on the hunt for new materials to fuel solar cells for electricity, and he's looking for answers in the plant kingdom. To be specific, the Brazilian scientist is analyzing polymers, very large molecules made of carbon atoms, in an effort to reproduce the efficiency of plants.
"Plants operate at over 90 percent efficiency in converting the light of the sun into energy," Borges said. "Today's silicon semiconductor technology does that at only 40 percent efficiency and at a high cost." So the idea behind his research is to model new carbon-based polymers that will close the efficiency gap by getting them to perform nearer to the way nature does.
"We are trying to understand nature's process, and we are getting closer and closer to accurate models," he said.
Borges could be doing that at any strong research university in the United States. But as the recipient of a 2012 Capes-Fulbright Visiting Professorship, Borges chose to do so in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department at Texas Tech because of the stature of the department's faculty. "I already had a connection with Hans Lischka," Borges said, "and I knew the works and used computer software written by William Hase in my research."
Borges hails from Rio de Janeiro's Military Institute of Engineering (MIE), where he is associate professor of Physics and Chemistry and teaches courses in Physics, Electronic Structure of Solids and Quantum Chemistry. He also is coordinator of the Group of Theoretical and Computational Physical Chemistry at MIE.
Most of Borges' work is conducted through computer models of chemical processes. Then the more promising models can be pursued in the lab, or previously synthesized materials can be better understood and improved. "The image of a chemist surrounded by test tubes is no longer totally right," Borges said, "because so much of research now can be carried out in computer simulations."
Although his three-month term here will end in mid-December, Borges said, "The work is so absorbing, I'm having a lot of fun."
He doesn't count the hours of research he put is each day. "Would 12 be right?" he wondered. "Because even when I get home I keep working and thinking about it." And that continues through conversations with colleagues over dinner most evenings and on into the weekend. "This is because we are scholars, researchers, and we love what we do," he added.
In fact, Borges may return from time to time just for collaboration. His own visit might even presage an influx of students from his home country. Brazil has decided to send 100,000 students abroad for their higher education in the next four years, Borges said, and some are bound to apply here. "Texas Tech is a good university and not a very expensive university," he said.
TECH'S BRAZILIAN TIES ON THE RISE
Chemistry Researcher Adelia Aquino Is Paving the Way
For Brazilian Students to Study Here
ADELIA AQUINO, TTU Chemistry Research Associate, comes from Brazil and was responsible for the Chemistry Division of the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development, Brazil's main science foundation. She has been in scientific cooperation with her fellow countryman, Fulbright winner Itamar Borges, since 2004, she said.
Since then, their collaboration has yielded two published papers, Aquino said, and has enlarged her own research field.
"The papers we have published are in explosives, and the others we are working on address photovoltaics," she said. "Both are important subjects, and especially the first was really new for me." Aquino added that the realm of photovoltaics is "an appealing subject in the energy field, and therefore has a high public relevance."
Although Borges's stay is too short for most undergraduates to cross his path, Aquino said one of her undergrads has worked with Borges quite closely. And students in Professor Hase's group have interacted with him. Additionally, Borges has participated in meetings at TTU to set up the Brazilian Mobility Program, Aquino said of Brazil's plan to send many of its students abroad for their studies.
"I have coordinated the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) by TTU and Brazilian authorities in regard to this program," Aquino said. "The MoU was signed last June and the program is in process of implementation at TTU."
CHEMSITRY FACULTY ON: Borges' Research
William Hase, the Robert A. Welch Professor of Chemistryat TTU, said getting a Fulbright is a highly competitive business. Hase wrote a recommendation that helped Itamar Borges, a physical chemist from Brazil, win a 2012 Capes-Fulbright Visiting Professorship to conduct research in TTU's highly ranked Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
"He got it because of a combination of the quality of his skills and the quality of the place he's coming to: Texas Tech," Hase said. "He's here because of our Theoretical and Computational Chemistry Program."
WILLIAM HASE, PhD
TTU Chemistry Professor
Hase said Borges' three-month term at Tech will continue to benefit the university long after he returns home to Rio de Janeiro and his duties as associate professor of Physics and Chemistry at the Military Institute of Engineering.
"His knowledge will be incorporated into graduate classes, certainly, and enhance graduate education as a whole," Hase said of Borge's research. "And this will lead to enhanced research funding from sources like the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense."
Hans Lischka, TTU Research Professor of Chemistry, said that his relationship with Borges dates back to the time when Lischka was a Chemistry professor at the University of Vienna.
"That collaboration was between Dr. Borges and my group, including especially Dr. Adelia Aquino," Lischka said. During his Fulbright research here, Borges is directly collaborating with Lischka.
"The present collaboration is extremely inspiring for all partners," Lischka said. "One should note that the quantum chemical problems to be solved are enormous and that the work of Dr. Borges is worldwide outstanding."
HANS LISCHKA, PhD
TTU Chemistry Professor
Lischka explained that Borges' research in the field of photovoltaics is based on organic semiconductors, an attempt to utilize solar energy for the production of electric energy. "Theoretical studies such as the ones carried out by Dr. Borges are extremely important to understand the ongoing complex processes and to improve their practical efficiency. Thus, the whole topic is of extremely high public interest," Lishka said.
Lishka added that such work is bound to attract further research funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. Beyond the benefits of research, Lishka said he sees Borges' visit as an opportunity to intensify existing contacts between TTU and Brazilian universities through programs such as Brazil's Science Without Borders student exchange. "This participation by TTU has been initiated by Dr. Aquino," Lischka said.