Alex Johnson is a physicist who will use his experimental and theoretical skills to design, build, and test a new generation of fuel cells that might be used to power portable electronics or cars.
Alex received a B.S. in physics with high distinction and honors in physics from Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California in 1999. As an undergraduate, he worked on gravitation and semiconductor optics, and spent a summer working on laser-based manufacturing techniques for Panasonic. He earned a Barry Goldwater scholarship and a prize for creative achievement in physics, and then spent a summer as a research assistant at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory working on X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy. With a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship, he came to Harvard in 2000 to work on his Ph.D., which he earned in November 2005. Research for his thesis (“Charge Sensing and Spin Dynamics in GaAs Quantum Dots”) included what his advisor, Charles Marcus, called “a series of groundbreaking experiments” which resulted in a set of papers by Alex and his colleagues that were published in Nature, Science, and Physical Review.
As an Environmental Fellow, Alex will leave the Physics Department for engineering. He will work with Assistant Professor Shriram Ramanathan of the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Alex hopes to develop cleaner and more efficient energy technologies that will accelerate the transition from an oil-based to a hydrogen-based energy infrastructure. He describes his work this way: “I propose to apply the techniques of microfabrication, including optical lithography, thin film deposition, and wafer bonding, to the production of solid oxide fuel cells. These techniques have been developed extensively by the semiconductor industry, but despite their wide availability (both at Harvard and commercially) they have not been applied to fuel cells. I anticipate building prototypes with lower operating temperature and/or higher power density than existing solid oxide fuel cells. This would be the first microfabricated fuel cell, and could enable fuel cell use in a variety of portable applications. Lower temperature and smaller size will also allow the study of new materials and new interface physics which may lead to further performance enhancement.”