University of Utah chemical engineering assistant professor Michael Hoepfner received the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award for 2019, which supports “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 or organization.”

Hoepfner received his $500,000 grant for developing simulations on how molecules behave in order to more accurately predict how they organize. Typically, researchers simulate the behavior of molecules by predicting their properties on a macroscopic level, such as their density. But Hoepfner and his team want to find a better way to simulate those properties by using “neutron scattering” measurements to measure how molecules are organized in a solution or fluid.

“We can improve the accuracy of simulations, and we can then simulate how molecules or mixtures of molecules behave without having to synthesize them,” he said.

Hoepfner said he will be focusing his research on organic semiconductors. These are used in organic electronics such as OLED televisions or organic photovoltaics used for more efficient solar panels. These new simulations could also benefit the oil and gas industry.

“It feels good,” he said about receiving the award. “There have been generations of data collected to get this concept off the ground, so it’s great to finally be able to sink my teeth into the problem.”

Hoepfner received his bachelor’s in chemical engineering from the University of Utah and a master’s and doctorate from the University of Michigan, both in chemical engineering. He joined the U in 2013.

He is one of three in the U’s College of Engineering to so far receive the award for 2019. Other recipients include biomedical engineering assistant professor Jessica Kramer and mechanical engineering assistant professor Owen Kingstedt.