Published: May 29, 2018

The Böer Solar Energy Medal of Merit Selection Committee has selected Professor Alex Zunger of the University of Colorado, Boulder, for the Karl W. Böer Solar Energy Medal of Merit Award for 2018.

The citation reads: “For outstanding and transformative contributions to the understanding of PV and electronic materials interfaces, nanostructure, and defect, were providing theory guidance to improving device performance—and his first-principles development of innovative "inverse-design" for materials discovery”

Prof. Zunger’s 2018-award follows a list of other distinguished biannual recipients, starting with President Jimmy Carter in 1983 and most recently Nobel Laureate Zores Alferov (2013), and Prof. Antonio Luque (2015) (https://www1.udel.edu/iec/karlboeraward.html ).

Alex Zunger is an outstanding scientist whose pioneering work in condensed matter physics and the concept of inverse design has helped to develop a deep understanding of materials in general and complex solar materials in particular. Alex Zunger has brought state-of-the-art quantum-mechanical understanding of solids to bear on photovoltaics. He has made foundational contributions to the field of solar energy and photovoltaic materials, including establishing the theory of defects, doping, alloying, grain boundaries and ordering of a full range PV materials and materials by design, arguably creating the basis for intelligent, theory- inspired material discovery, accelerating a broad range of technologies, ranging from solar cells, LED’s, FET, and flat panel displays. This helped transform the early, intuitive concepts in PV into the language and tools of predictive contemporary material science, thereby significantly enhancing the incorporation of sub-fields such as structure and bonding, quantum nanostructure science, defect physics, grain-boundary science, and alloy theory into PV. His work created a new level of interaction between experimentalists and theory in diverse families of PV compounds and trained a significant number of talented postdocs in theory of PV materials (>80) that now occupy leading positions in the fields including silicon PV, thin–film chalcopyrites, II-VI, and III-V PV and propelled PV science into a highly cited field in materials science (see web site: www.inversedesign.org ). His work has led to improvements of solar cell devices and accelerated the invention of new solar cell materials. His research has uncovered many materials with target-desired properties that were overlooked in our trial-by-error materials science approaches.  His exceptional inverse design idea allows not only the theoretical design of new solar cell materials and new transparent conducting electrode materials but also can be easily transferred to other materials with predefined properties such as thermoelectric or magnetic properties.  Dr. Zunger’s approach strongly supports the solar cell community and his trans-disciplinary approach has helped to improve the performance of many different solar cell systems and has brought together experimental physicists, chemists and companies in designing new solar materials.

Amongst his many achievements, Dr. Zunger established the Solid State Theory group at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Golden, Colorado.  He has also been the founding Director of the $20 million ‘Center for Inverse Design’ (a DOE Energy Frontier Research Center).  The impact of Dr. Zunger’s work is partially reflected by the very high number of citations his papers have received (over 88,000) and by his “h-index” of 135 (https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=9I1Ner8AAAAJ&hl=en ).  He is the author of the fifth-most-cited paper in the 110-year history of Physical Review (out of over 350,000 articles published in that journal).  In the course of his research, he has authored more than 650 articles in refereed journals. He has also trained more than 80 post-doctoral fellows and has been declared by the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI) as the 39th most-cited physicist out of more than 500,000 physicists examined based on publications in all branches of physics. 

The Böer Medal recognizes an individual who has made significant pioneering contributions in solar energy, wind energy or other forms of renewable energy as an alternate source of energy through research, development or economic enterprise, or to an individual who has made extraordinary, valuable and enduring contributions to the field in other ways.

Dr. Zunger is the 14th recipient of the medal, which is named in honor of Karl Wolfgang Böer, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Physics and Solar Energy at UD.  Dr. Böer, who passed away on April 18, 2018 at the age of 92, was a visionary scientist whose pioneering work led to significant progress in the field of renewable energy.  Through his generosity, the Böer Medal will continue to honor those who, like Drs. Boer and Zunger, have made enduring contributions to the sustainable future of our planet.