Center for Photonics, Sensors and Solar Energy

Mool Gupta, Ph.D.

The Center for Photonics, Sensors, and Solar Energy is focused on exploring advanced techniques for fabricating novel optical sensors, solar thermal energy solutions, concentrated solar power, and metamaterial applications. Student research projects are focused on the areas of laser sintering for solar thermal systems, metamaterials for microwave-based imaging, quantum dot based temperature sensors, and quantum dot based solar concentrators. Several graduate students located on the University of Virginia campus also perform advanced solar cell fabrication in a clear room fabrication facility.

The Center’s research initiatives include:

  • Thin-film coatings using electron beam, sputtering, laser ablation and chemical vapor deposition
  • Nanomaterials processing and incorporation in various matrixes
  • Lithography based on optical and electron beams for patterning and replication
  • Photonic device fabrication, including fiber optic applications
  • Laser processing of materials
  • Device characterization and applications

The Center presently consists of:

Craig Ungaro:  Craig Ungaro is a PhD candidate at the University of Virginia in the Electrical and Computer Engineering department.  His research focuses on developing inexpensive solar energy collection systems utilizing solar thermal photovoltaic technology, and involves collaboration and support from NASA members.

Dennis Waldron: Dennis L. Waldron III is a PhD candidate at the University of Virginia in the Electrical and Computer Engineering department.  He is working closely with members of NASA, to produce new quantum-dot based materials systems for solar energy collection via next-generation solar luminescent concentrators.

Ankit Shah: Ankit Shah is a Ph.D. Candidate at University of Virginia in Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.  His research involves using lasers to develop efficient spectral selective coatings for solar thermal collectors. His goal is to enable collectors to absorb most of the sunlight and reduce thermal emittance by trying to develop more efficient coatings. Research on how to use lasers to develop  these spectral selective surfaces opens a huge potential market for laser based manufacturing of these solar thermal collectors, which can significantly reduce their cost. This cost reduction directly supports the SunShot Inititiative put forth by Department of Energy to reach 6 cents/kWh for solar energy. In addition, this research is being done in collaboration with NASA Langley Research Center for the use of solar thermal systems in space for power production and propulsion. There is a huge demand for in space power production and developing efficient coatings for solar thermal collectors will allow spacecrafts to generate power in space utilizing solar energy. Also, solar thermal propulsion is being considered for microsatellites in space and having high performance spectral selective surfaces will enable high specific impulse and thrust generation for these satellites.

Duncan McGillivray: Duncan McGillivray received his B.S. degree in physics at SUNY-Binghamton in 2004 and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Virginia. His current research is utilizing game changing metamaterials to develop a revolutionary non-conventional microwave imaging system that is capable of imaging of objects at unprecedented resolution. This research is in close collaboration with the Electromagnetics and Sensors Branch at NASA Langley Research Center and is centered on the structural health monitoring of advanced composites.

Current Research Activities

Metamaterials: Graduate student Duncan McGillivray is working at NASA LaRC on metamaterials, that is, materials with negative refractive index. These materials provide remarkably high dispersion characteristics and sub wavelength resolution, traits that will allow for fabrication of microwave imaging systems for sensor applications.

Quantum Dots: Dennis Waldron and Craig Ungaro are also collaborating at NASA LaRC, but in the area of quantum dots, with an inquiry as to how they can be employed in solar cell applications. Primarily their work is focused on the optimization of solar cell fabrication processes based on quantum dots.

Thermal Photovoltaics: In collaboration with NASA LaRC, NIA graduate student Ankit Shah has been working to determine the feasibility of space solar power in regards to future propulsion systems. Shah’s work is particularly concerned with thermal photovoltaics for both space propulsion and power.

Optical Fluorescent Based Sensors: When a space vehicle enters an atmosphere, there is an interaction between the atmosphere and the structure of the body of the vehicle. The continued success of landing space vehicles and other instruments destined to enter our own, or other atmospheres, relies on a critical understanding of the relationship between atmospheric gasses and the pressures they do or do not exert on the body of a space vehicle. To achieve this, Devin Pugh Thomas is working to develop an optical fluorescence based sensors, that will measure rapidly changing high temperatures generated during the vehicle reentry process. Primarily, her research is focused in the area of measurement of photoluminescence at very high temperatures using quantum dots in a dielectric matrix.


Bagienski, W., and Gupta, M., “Temperature Dependence of Polymer/Fullerene Organic Solar Cells,” Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells, 95 (2011): 933-941, doi:10.1016/j.solmat.2010.11.026

Bush, J., Nayak, B., Nair, L., Gupta, M., and Laurencin, C., “Improved Bio-Implant Using Ultrafast Laser Induced Self-Assembled Nanotexture in Titanium,” J. Biomedical Materials Res. Part B-Applied Biomaterials, 97B (2011): 299-305, doi:10.1002/jbm.b.31815

Compher, E., Gupta, M., Wilson, C., and Madaras, E., “Solar Powered Micrometeorite Sensors Using Indoor Ambient Light for the International Space Station,” Solar Energy, 85 (2011): 1899-1905, doi:10.1016/j.solener.2011.04.029

Iyengar, V., Nayak, B., More, K., Meyer, H., Biegalski, M., Li, J., and Gupta, M., “Properties of Ultrafast Laser Textured Silicon for Photovoltaics,” Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells, 95 (2011): 2745-2751, doi:10.1016/j.solmat.2011.04.011

Li, J., Kim, S., Edington, S., Nedy, J., Cho, S., Lee, K., Heeger, A., Gupta, M., and Yetes, J., “A Study of Stabilization of P3HT/PCBM Organic Solar Cells by Photochemical Active TiOx Layer,” Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells, 95 (2011): 1123-1130, doi:10.1016/j.solmat.2010.12.030

Li, Z., Nayak, B., Iyengar, V., McIntosh, D., Zhou, Q., Gupta, M., and Campbell, J., “Laser-Textured Silicon Photodiode with Broadband Spectral Response,” Appl. Opt., 50 (2011): 2508-2511, doi:10.1364/AO.50.002508

Koppolu, V., Gupta, M., and Scudiero, L., “Photoelectron Spectroscopy and Atomic Force Microscopy Study of 1,2-dicyano-methanofullerene C60(CN)2 Thin Film for Photovoltaic Applications,” Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells, 95 (2011): 1111-1118, doi:10.1016/j.solmat.2010.12.024

Fletcher, A., Gupta, M.C., Dudley, K.L., and Vedeler, E., “Elastomer Foam Nanocomposites for Electromagnetic Dissipation and Shielding Applications,” Comp. Sci. and Tech., 70 (2010): 953-958, doi:10.1016/j.compscitech.2010.02.011

Gupta, M.C., Li, B., Gadag, S., and Chou, K.C., “Laser Micromachining for Fatigue and Fracture Mechanics Applications,” Opt. and Las. in Eng., 48 (2010): 441-447, doi:10.1016/j.optlaseng.2009.09.

Gupta, M.C., Nayak, B.K., and Iyengar, V.V., “Optical Properties of Silicon Light Trapping Structures for Photovoltaics,” Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells, 94 (2010): 2251, doi:10.1016/j.solmat.2010.07.020

Kumar, A., and Gupta, M.C., “Laser Machining of Micro-Notches for Fatigue Life,” Opt. and Las. in Eng., 48 (2010): 690-697, doi:10.1016/j.optlaseng.2010.01.008

Kumar, A., Sapp, M., Vincelli, J., and Gupta, M.C., “A Study on Laser Cleaning and Pulsed Gas Tungsten Arc Welding of Ti-3Al-2.5V Alloy Tubes,” J. Mater. Proc. Tech., 210 (2010): 64-71, doi:10.1016/j.jmatprotec.2009.08.017

Pugh-Thomas, D., Walsh, B., and Gupta, M.C., “Spectroscopy of BeAl2O4:Cr3+ with Application to High-Temperature Sensing,” Appl. Opt., 49 (2010): 2891-2897, doi: 10.1364/AO.49.002891

Stramel, A.A., Gupta, M.C., Lee, H.R., Yu, J., and Edwards, W.C., Pulsed Laser Deposition of Carbon Nanotube and Polystyrene-Carbon Nanotube Composite Thin Films,” Opt. and Las. in Eng., 48 (2010): 1291-1295, doi:10.1016/j.optlaseng.2010.06.002

Sun, C., Gupta, M.C., and Taminger, K.B., “Electron Beam Sintering of Zirconium Diboride,” J. Am. Ceramic Soc., 93 (2010): 2484–2486, doi:10.1111/j.1551-2916.2010.03832.x