Rebekah Wells receives the 2024 Lopez-Loreta Award

© 2020 EPFL

© 2020 EPFL

After defending her PhD in 2022, Rebekah Wells launches her research program on chiral 2D nanomaterials, thanks to the 1M Euros support of the Lopez-Loreta Foundation.

Since 2019, EPFL has had the honor of seeing one of their own graduate students receive the generous endowment of the Lopez-Loreta Foundation, in support of an innovative and highly promising research project. This year, it took Rebekah Wells’ ambitious long-term scientific vision, anchored on a specific engineering problem to convince the board. “The big picture goal is to design and develop next generation electronic and optoelectronic devices in order to address major global challenges, such as climate change, renewable energy, and health care. I believe we can do that with materials engineering, and in particular by advancing scalable, solution-processable techniques in order to afford precise control over phenomena emerging at the nanoscale”, says Dr Wells.

In her project, entitled NextGenNano, nanoscale phenomena involve chiral entities such as biomolecules, photons, and electrons, all bearing a distinctive, asymmetric structural signature (chirality). The development of novel chiral two-dimensional nanomaterials would allow unique interactions with these entities, enabling control over light, charge, or even elusive properties like electron spin. Being able to control such factors has broad implications for major areas such as solar energy conversion, disease detection, and information processing. But Dr Wells argues beyond the nanomaterial development as a goal: “The unique challenge is really making high-quality chiral 2D materials in a scalable and environmentally conscious manner. Thus, the path to making these materials is as important as the materials themselves.”

While the Lopez-Loreta Foundation support offers an exceptional career and research opportunity at a young academic age, Dr Wells sees an additional benefit in this situation: “As one of my personal goals is to reduce the day-to-day environmental footprint of research, this prize provides me with the additional flexibility needed to incorporate sustainable lab practices right from the onset of my career.” Dr Wells has now undertaken the pilot phase of NextGenNano at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

The Lopez-Loreta prize is given annually to four recent master or PhD graduates from EPFL, ETH Zurich, École Polytechnique in Palaiseau and ISAE-SUPAERO in Toulouse to finance outstanding projects over five years. The prize is funded by the Jean-Jacques and Felicia Lopez-Loreta Foundation for academic excellence.