Platinum Planet: How Dr. Tansel Karabacak is using a precious metal to save the world

Dr. Tansel Karbacak’s laboratory is not the colorful menagerie of test tubes and Bunsen burners one might imagine. Instead, his lab feels more like an auto garage, with a rack of precision (and not-so-precision) hand tools hung on the wall, and a noisy piece of machinery humming in the center of the scuffed linoleum floor. Dr. Karabacak admits that his experience in applied physics has made him a more-than-capable mechanic.

“A researcher in this kind of work can easily fix a car,” says Dr. K with a laugh. He explains how it is up to he and his team to constantly repair and update the sputter deposition system – the steel machine making all the racket. Somewhere inside the machine resides a small quantity of platinum, which is not only a popular metal for jewelry, but essential material to the creation of fuel cells.

“Fuel cells are a clean source of energy, giving off water and heat. so they’re used in electric powered automobiles,” says Dr. K., “But the common catalyst used to make the fuel cell work is platinum. And it’s very expensive.”

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Dr. Karabacak transforms platinum into thin materials that can make fuel cells less expensive.

Dr. Karabacak is a professor of applied physics at UA Little Rock, where he’s conducted groundbreaking research in Materials Physics, Materials Science and Solid State Physics. Dr. K and his team recently received $500,000 grant to develop high-performance, cost-effective transportation fuel cells. Dr. K is focused on making the platinum component more efficient through a process called sputter deposition, which brings more atoms to the surface of the platinum, making the material more efficient.

And efficiency is critical. If electric vehicles are ever to become pragmatic modes of transportation, fuel cells must become less expensive and more productive. If Dr. Karabacak’s team is successful, we could see more electric powered vehicles on the road very soon, reducing dangerous carbon emissions significantly.

To learn more about Dr. Karabacak’s work, see our video now.