News from Department of Energy, Office of Science

Michael S. Arnold: Then and Now / 2011 Early Career Award Winner

My DOE Early Career Award was an enormous benefit. Through this award, I was able to launch new research directions that have evolved to now become areas of major emphasis in my research group. Because the award continued for five years as opposed to typical research grants which only last three years, I was able to pursue higher risk / higher reward ideas (that generally take longer to develop) and turn them into successes.

The overarching theme of the research supported by this award was the synthesis of graphene nanostructures. These are sheet-like nanostructures made up entirely of carbon, with the thickness of a single atom. Graphene nanostructures have extraordinary properties that make them desirable for next-generation energy and electronics applications; both academia and industry are pursuing research on them. But their synthesis (and in particular, the synthesis of graphene nanostructures with atomically smooth edges necessary for most applications) has been a roadblock.

Supported by this award, my research group and I invented and investigated the details of three new, highly effective approaches for producing graphene nanostructures that have atomically smooth edges. These approaches are currently being adopted by other researchers around the world. We also developed a fundamental understanding of the factors underpinning graphene and graphene nanostructure synthesis; we explained how methane is converted into graphene during a manufacturing process called chemical vapor deposition.

The research findings from this project have been broadly disseminated via 23 scientific journal publications and four U.S. patents for the benefit of the entire scientific community. The innovative concepts that were uncovered are expected to impact the development of next-generation materials for faster, more energy-efficient electronics. Our new understanding results in materials with tunable optical properties tailored for harvesting energy from light. The research will also impact the use of graphene nanostructures in applications such as batteries and thermoelectrics.

Michael Arnold is a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

The Early Career Research Program provides financial support that is foundational to early career investigators, enabling them to define and direct independent research in areas important to DOE missions. The development of outstanding scientists and research leaders is of paramount importance to the Department of Energy Office of Science. By investing in the next generation of researchers, the Office of Science champions lifelong careers in discovery science.

For more information, please go to the Early Career Research Program.

Templated Bottom‐Up Synthesis of Semiconducting and Nanostructured Graphene Materials

The objective of this project is to develop a fundamental understanding of how nanostructured graphene materials can be rationally synthesized from the bottom up with atomic precision and exceptional properties.   

The research will focus on studying the nucleation and kinetics of graphene growth in confined patterns and channels, controlling the crystallinity of the graphene materials, and learning the mechanisms that determine the atomic ordering at their edges. The understanding that is gained will result in novel high‐performance materials that could impact a number of energy technologies of national importance including low‐energy semiconductor electronics, the efficient generation of electricity from solar and infrared light, and the high‐density storage of energy in batteries.

N.S. Safron, M. Kim, P. Gopalan, and M.S. Arnold, “Barrier-guided growth of micro- and nano-structured graphene.” Advanced Materials 24, 1041 (2012). [DOI: 10.1002/adma.201104195]

R.M. Jacobberger and M.S. Arnold, “Graphene growth dynamics on epitaxial copper thin films.” Chemistry of Materials 25, 871 (2013). [DOI: 10.1021/cm303445s]

R.M. Jacobberger, B. Kiraly, M. Fortin-Deschenes, P.L. Levesque, K.M. McElhinny, G.J. Brady, R.R. Delgado, S. Singha Roy, A. Mannix, M.G. Lagally, P.G. Evans, P. Desjardins, R. Martel, M. C. Hersam, N.P. Guisinger, and M.S. Arnold, “Direct oriented growth of armchair graphene nanoribbons on germanium.” Nature Communications 6, 8006 (2015). [DOI: 10.1038/ncomms9006]

DOE Explains… offers straightforward explanations of key words and concepts in fundamental science. It also describes how these concepts apply to the work that the Department of Energy’s Office of Science conducts as it helps the United States excel in research across the scientific spectrum. For more information on nanoscience and DOE’s research in this area, please go to DOE Explains…Nanoscience.


Additional profiles of the Early Career Research Program award recipients can be found at /science/listings/early-career-program

The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit

Sandra Allen McLean is a Communications Specialist in the Office of Science, Office of Communications and Public Affairs [email protected].