Professor receives $10 million grant from Saudi university
BY DAN STOBER
It's a decision any researcher would love to face: how to spend $10 million.
Yi Cui, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford who specializes in nanotechnology, knows where he's going with his grant: back to the lab. When the funding begins in May, he'll begin hiring students and staff, buying equipment and perhaps expanding his lab in the McCullough Building. His efforts will stay focused on "electro-chemical energy storage," another way of saying he'll continue his high-profile research on long-life batteries and other means of storing electricity, such as supercapacitors.
"The money will allow me to explore a lot of exciting ideas which are not otherwise possible," said an elated Cui. "Very crazy ideas, but potentially very high impact projects that could change the whole world if successful."
The funding, notably larger than the usual sponsorship for an individual researcher, comes from Saudi Arabia's nascent research university, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, known as KAUST. The grant will be spread over a period of five years.
Cui, 32, is one of a dozen scientists chosen by KAUST as "global research partnership investigators," one each from Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Oxford, University of Tokyo, Georgia Institute of Technology, Pennsylvania State, University of Cambridge, University of California-Berkeley, Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, University of Toronto, California Institute of Technology and the University of Rome.
Each KAUST Investigator is expected to spend between three weeks and three months per year on the KAUST campus in Thuwal, on the coast of the Red Sea, participating in the research and academic life of the institution. But the bulk of the research funded by Cui's KAUST grant will be conducted on the Stanford campus.
Cui has gained attention in recent months for his promising research on rechargeable batteries. He and his group have developed nanotechnology with the potential to greatly increase the time between recharging for the lithium-ion batteries that make laptops run, iPods sing and cameras click. The researchers' approach utilizes silicon nanowires as the anode inside the battery. The nanowires may hold several times more lithium than current battery technology.
KAUST officials hope that further development of the technology will lead to incubation of new businesses in Saudi Arabia. The research fits with KAUST's focus on developing energy alternatives to oil.
Cui, a native of China's Guangxi province, holds a bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Science and Technology of China and a doctorate in chemistry from Harvard. He has been an assistant professor at Stanford since 2005, and was recently named an outstanding young investigator by the U.S. Office of Naval Research.
"I'm really excited about this," Cui said. "I appreciate Stanford a lot. Stanford was willing to nominate me for this award, to give an assistant professor a chance." Cui said he wants to make some of his new equipment available to other Stanford researchers.
Stanford announced in early March that it had signed an agreement to help KAUST hire faculty and create curriculum in the fields of applied mathematics and computer science. Stanford officials said they believed that the merit-based university, created with a policy of nondiscrimination, can be a force for moderation in the region.
KAUST Interim President Nadhmi Al-Nasr said in a press release that "KAUST intends to become a major new contributor to the global network of collaborative research. As a convener, it will enable researchers from around the globe and across all cultures to work together to solve challenging scientific and technological problems that are of the utmost importance."