Professor nominated for prestigious award

Dr. Lei Zhai, associate professor of UCF’s Nanoscience Technology Center and the Department of Chemistry, along with postdoctoral associate Jianhua Zou, has been nominated for a Katerva Award for his Frozen Smoke project.

These awards are given for the very best sustainability initiatives on the planet. Also nominated is the team of UCF researchers who he worked with on this project: Dr. Saiful Khondaker, Dr. Sudipta Seal and Dr. Quanfang Chen. They are being recognized for the creation of multi-walled carbon nanotubes aerogel which may potentially be used in improving robotic surgery, storing energy more efficiently and detecting pollutants and toxic substances.

These nanotubes are so small that thousands can fit on a single strand of human hair. The Central Florida Future spoke with Zhai to see how his life has changed since his nomination and his passion for chemistry and educating students.
Central Florida Future: Why did you choose to study chemistry?

Lei Zhai: I am good at imagining things. I can work on things that I can think of. I always have been fascinated by new technology, new materials. That’s why I chose chemistry.

CFF: Why did you choose to focus on nanotube research?

Zhai: Right now, we know that carbon nanotubes have all kinds of unique properties; high conductivity, good mechanical properties and all kinds of interesting properties. It has been around for almost 20 years, and it’s still a very interesting area.

CFF: Has the Katerva Award evaluation process been difficult for you?

Zhai: It just takes a small amount of my time. It’s an award, but it’s not everything. I’m still focused on research and education. Also, through this award, I want to promote the research at UCF. UCF can get publicity through this and inspire students.

CFF: Have you been contacted by any other universities regarding your nomination/project?

Zhai: There are some industries and companies that have contacted me and asked about the research and future collaborations. I guess right now we are at a stage to really push the nanoscience technology into the industry. It’s been about 10 years since George W. Bush signed the initiative of nanotechnology, so it’s about time to kind of push this technology into the industry application.

CFF: Have you been asked to speak anywhere as a result of your nomination?

Zhai: Thursday, I’ll give a virtual talk at Materials Today. It’s one of the top journals in the materials science field. I was invited to give a virtual seminar over there. I was told that there would be 3,000 in the audience of that seminar.

This is an article from Andy Ceballos of the Central Florida Future. Read more here.

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