By Anne E. V. Gorden
Rising Star Award-winner Dr. Karen Mulfort is a chemist in the Solar Energy Conversion group at Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Illinois. Dr. Mulfort earned a dual degree in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the University of Minnesota. She then undertook her Ph.D. studies at Northwestern University working with Professor Joseph Hupp. While working on her research in materials chemistry and catalysis for her Ph.D., she had an opportunity to work as a graduate fellow at Argonne National Laboratory. On completing her Ph.D. in 2008, she was awarded a Director’s Postdoctoral fellowship to pursue postdoctoral research at Argonne, and was became a staff scientist as an assistant chemist in 2010. She was promoted to Chemist there in 2015. She has contributed to 5 patents and more than 40 papers.
Dr. Mulfort has been recognized with a United States Department of Energy Early Career Research Program award for her work characterizing molecular interactions taking place within defined nanostructures in the hopes of better understanding the way molecules interact with light. This is one key step in understanding how to develop photocatalysts, light-harvesting molecules that could be used in artificial photosynthesis or new solar energy conversion materials. Dr. Mulfort says she originally became attracted to this area of materials chemistry because it not only is an exciting chance to create and explore new materials, but also “solar energy conversion will be critical for developing renewable, sustainable, clean energy for society.” In particular, she is interested in creative molecular designs that will allow the use of earth abundant metals in place of much more costly metals like iridium. This work has the potential to revolutionize how solar cells and solar collectors are made, making them less expensive, more durable, and, key to their broader acceptance, much more efficient. Dr. Mulfort enjoys the national laboratory setting as a unique place to work bringing together a larger multidisciplinary group under a larger collaborative umbrella. This allows her to do research in creative molecular and supramolecular design at the same time collaborating with experts in spectroscopy and chemical biology.
Her advice for other chemists and rising stars is something she learned in graduate school. She would encourage younger chemists to remember that science is a long game. It is a marathon not a sprint. Put in the time it takes to get that paper or that proposal, but always remember that there will be setbacks or days things do not quite work. Those
are the days to remember to keep trying and the rewards of achieving your goals.