USM polymer professor earns Department of Energy Early Career Research Award

Published 12:06 pm Monday, July 12, 2021

University of Southern Mississippi (USM) polymer Professor Xiaodan Gu has joined an elite group of scientists nationwide as the recipient of an Early Career Research grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The award includes $150,000 per year in funding distributed over five years to cover salary and research expenses.

The DOE selected 83 scientists who will receive a total of $100 million as part of the Early Career Research Program. The program, now in its 12th year, supports exceptional scientists during the crucial years when many do their most formative work in the agency’s priority research areas.

“To say that I am thrilled to receive this award is an understatement,” said Gu. “Historically, DOE’s early career grant is quite competitive with perhaps five percent of the proposals receiving funding. I am very proud of our research team, my mentors and my collaborators. And I am grateful to the Department of Energy for providing this generous support to our research group.”

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Gu was selected for his research project titled: Precise Chain Conformation and Dynamics Control for Conjugated Polymers in Organic Electronic Thin Film Devices.

The project can be summarized as follows: “Organic electronics based on semiconducting polymers are important for a broad range of next-generation renewable energy applications. Precise control of polymer conformation is critical for the device performance. However, it remains a great challenge to manipulate thin film morphologies for specific electronic and optical properties required for end-use products. The goal of this research is to enhance the knowledge base for efficiently and precisely controlling the processing of semiconducting polymers to increase device performance.”

Gu notes that the Early Career Research program is designed as a long-term initiative that allows scientists to develop high-risk and high-reward scientific ideas and push the boundaries of scientific knowledge.”

“We will use this project to develop a new neutron scattering capability for thin-film samples,” he said. “This will open up a new way to study morphology for polymeric thin films in various energy applications. Additionally, our vision is to develop lightweight, low-cost energy harvest and storage based on semiconducting materials. This can provide new ways to utilize energy efficiently in a wide range of applications.”

Dr. Derek Patton, Director of the School of Polymer Science and Engineering at USM, praised Gu for his commitment to the University and the field of polymer science.

“It is extremely rewarding to see our faculty win prestigious and highly competitive awards. Dr. Gu’s recognition as a DOE Early Career awardee is richly deserved and is a clear testament to his tremendous talent and the hard work of his research team,” said Patton.

“This award, along with a recent National Science Foundation CAREER award, highlights Dr. Gu’s rapid ascent as an international leader in the field of conjugated polymers and organic electronic thin film devices.”

The awardees represent 41 universities and 11 DOE National Laboratories in 32 states — including five universities that are receiving funding for the first time under this award.

Awardees were selected based on peer review by outside scientific experts. Projects announced today are selections for negotiation of financial award. The final details for each project award are subject to final grant and contract negotiations between DOE and the awardees.

A list of the 83 awardees, their institutions, and titles of research projects is available on the Early Career Research Program webpage.

About The University of Southern Mississippi

The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) is a comprehensive public research institution delivering transformative programs on campuses in Hattiesburg and Long Beach, at teaching and research sites across the Mississippi Gulf Coast, as well as online. Founded in 1910, USM is one of only 131 universities in the nation to earn the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education’s “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity” designation, and its robust research enterprise includes experts in ocean science and engineering, polymer science and engineering, and large event venue safety and security, among others. USM is also one of only 37 institutions in the nation accredited in theatre, art and design, dance and music. As an economic driver, USM generates an annual economic impact of more than $600 million across the state. USM welcomes a diverse student body of more than 14,000, representing 71 countries, all 50 states, and every county in Mississippi. USM students have collected four Truman Scholarships and 37 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, while also leading Mississippi with 27 Goldwater Scholarships, an honor that recognizes the next generation of great research scientists. Home to the Golden Eagles, USM competes in 17 Division I sports sponsored by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). For more information, visit