Emily Davidson, an expert in designing sustainable materials, has won an early career award from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. She is one of 83 researchers to receive funding from the DOE Early Career Research Program this year.
The award will foster Davidson’s work on materials that heat up or cool down in response to physical stress, such as stretching or compressing. Davidson’s DOE-funded project will home in on the structural properties of a specialized subset of these materials, rubbery substances called liquid crystal elastomers. She will look at how strategic changes to their underlying structures could improve performance in heating and cooling applications. If harnessed, they could form the basis for solid-state refrigeration to replace inefficient vapor-based cooling systems, which often rely on toxic chemicals and which account for a substantial share of the nation’s energy consumption.
An assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering, Davidson specializes in techniques that combine 3D printing with polymer science and engineering. Other projects work with elastomers and gels that behave like muscles in robotic devices. She also studies how to chemically recycle the kinds of plastics that are both ubiquitous and difficult to recycle in today’s mainstream systems.
“Supporting America’s scientists and researchers early in their careers will ensure the U.S. remains at the forefront of scientific discovery and develops the solutions to our most pressing challenges,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “The funding announced today will allow the recipients the freedom to find the answers to some of the most complex questions as they establish themselves as experts in their fields.”
The DOE’s Early Career Research Program supports scientists and engineers who have earned a Ph.D. within the last 10 years. This year, awardees represent 47 universities and 13 national labs. The program’s university-based researchers receive $150,000 per year over five years.
Davidson joined Princeton in 2021 after a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University. As a Ph.D. student at the University of California-Berkeley and the University of California-Santa Barbara, she studied how advanced polymers assemble into intricate and useful shapes. Prior to her career as a research scientist, Davidson taught high school chemistry and physics for two years through the Teach for America organization. Earlier this year she won a Project X Innovation Award from the School of Engineering and Applied Science.