CAREER awards are among the NSF’s most prestigious in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department.

Rare earth elements (REEs) are required materials in nearly all clean energy technologies that will enable the decarbonization of energy systems. For example, dysprosium is a heavy REE that is used to make the permanent magnets found in wind turbines and electric vehicles. This 5-year, $510,000 award enables Song to explore the fundamental micro- and nano-scale multiphase reactive transport phenomena that control REEs recovery from unsaturated, unconsolidated nanoporous clays using seawater as environmentally-benign leachate.

A suite of novel micro- and nanofluidic imaging platforms will be developed that enable, for the first time, operando visualization of in situ fluid-solid interactions within nanoporous media. Visual data of micro- and nano-scale reactive transport will be quantified and woven into pore-ensemble parameters using reduced-order models to predict and design environmentally-benign and effective in situ leaching approaches.

Broader dissemination of the research will include the development of an interactive virtual reality world to engage school children in STEM learning activities. Through sensory play, the learning modules will build a basic intuitive understanding of the scientific principles associated with multiphase reactive transport in nanoconfined porous media. The application will be downloadable onto mobile phones at no cost, and application development will engage local K-12 classrooms in iterative feedback.

Wen Song's faculty profile

Wen Song's research group