Sarah Watzman believes that humans will one day convert heat coming off of objects like cars, cell phones and computers to electricity—and she wants to be the human to do it.
The mechanical and materials engineer got a vote of confidence this summer from the U.S. Department of Energy, which awarded her a highly competitive Early Career Research Award—funding her energy conversion work $750,000 over the next five years.
Watzman, an assistant professor at CEAS, believes answers to capturing lost energy may lie in Weyl semimetals, first discovered in 2015. She studied them while earning her graduate degree and doctorate at The Ohio State University and working in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Physics of Solids in Dresden, Germany, where she also completed some of her dissertation work.
With the money she’ll be able to hire a team of researchers and build out UC’s Energy Conversion Materials Laboratory to explore the materials’ potential.
“We're excited to see what Dr. Watzman learns, because UC is serious about doing research that makes a difference in the world,” says UC’s Vice President for Research Patrick Limbach. “When we say, 'Next Lives Here'—we mean finding lost opportunities like capturing lost heat and turning it into energy.”
Watzman didn’t do a post doc, so how did the first-year professor become one of 73 awardees this year? She gives a lot of credit to the Research and Development Support Series, organized through the Office of Research.
The series, in its third year, aims to give new faculty the tools needed to secure internal and external funding. Metrics tracked by the office show that UC faculty that participated in the series were nearly 4.5 times more likely to get funded, and their funding was 50 percent higher than funding received by their colleagues who didn’t participate in the series.
For Watzman, some of the most valuable series offerings included a workshop focused on writing the introduction of a grant proposal. “I literally put the PowerPoint side-by-side with my proposal, as I wrote it,” Watzman says. Also, there was the CEAS sponsored visit to Washington, D.C., where she sat down with the DOE program manager that eventually funded her. “It was super helpful,” Watzman says. “He had some really useful suggestions.”
M.S. AtKisson, a grant writing and research development expert, will give two of the series’ first grant writing seminars Oct. 10 and 11. UC’s efforts to help its faculty is refreshing, she says. “There is a culture of support for funding, so my presentation is not a one-off, but part of a larger plan.”
Faculty who participate in a majority of the series events are also eligible for a Research Launch Award—up to $3,500 to use however they see fit to further their research.
Launch winner Annette Rowe, of Arts and Sciences, used the funds to pay for travel to national and international conferences, where she presented her research. Nathan Morehouse, also of Arts and Sciences, found the new faculty program to be “invaluable in learning the ropes at UC,” connecting him to key people and offices at the university, which “allowed me to hit the ground running as I build a research group here."
“Everything we track shows that engaged faculty do much better at securing funding and thriving at UC,” says Assistant Vice President of Faculty Research Development Teri Reed, who runs the program.
It’s also a recruiting tool, Reed says, and this was true for Watzman.
“Between Teri and my department chair, Jay Kim, I felt I would be really well supported as a new faculty member,” Watzman says. “It meant a lot that there was someone there designated to help faculty navigate the research frontiers at UC.”
If interested, learn more about the series or see the list of Research Launch Award winners and contact Reed, firstname.lastname@example.org, with any specific questions.