Powering Sustainable Energy Sources

Using x-rays to learn how the structure of materials affects their properties

Imagine driving from Boston to D.C. and using only a single charge for your car. This would effectively double the current mile range possible for the best electric cars. Dr. Carlo Segre of the Illinois Institute of Technology researches how the structure of materials affect their properties. Using x-rays, it is possible to precisely measure the important characteristic lengths between atoms which describe the local structure of a cluster of atoms and how it affects the material properties. In short, x-rays allow researchers to understand how to improve and design new materials capable of superconductivity, magnetism, catalysis, and energy storage. Dr. Segre's current work on battery materials may lead to the development of a new format for storing electrochemical energy in a way that gives superior performance for electric vehicles of the future. This will therefore improve our chances of reducing the use of fossil fuels for transportation, creating renewable sources of energy, and enabling more efficient uses of nonrenewable energy.

As the Director of Illinois Tech's Center for Synchrotron Research and the Materials Research Collaborative Access Team (MRCAT), Dr. Segre manages the operation of an experimental facility for materials research that leads the nation. His team has access to one of the premiere x-ray sources in the world which makes it possible to approach difficult problems that are intractable using other methods. In addition, Dr. Segre not only researches science but also provides collaborative support to a large quantity of outside users. Therefore, he and his team are able to share the fantastic equipment they use each day with the greater community of university researchers, students, and industry researchers. As an extension of his commitment to the community at large, Dr. Segre also provides online courses that allow students from all over the world to learn about the techniques used in his lab and furthermore, to study at the lab after completing the course.

Current research includes:

  • Nanoelectrofuel: Dr. Segre is developing a new format for batteries suitable for grid storage and electric vehicles. The promise of nanoelectrofuel is to have the high energy density of a solid state battery in a flowable format which could provide electric vehicle ranges of nearly 500 miles on a full charge.

  • Catalysis Research: This research enables chemists and chemical engineers to understand the details of chemical reactions occurring at the catalyst surface and therefore to design new and improved catalysts for production of fine chemicals in refining and energy conversion.


Dr. Segre received his B.S. in physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1976. He then entered his bi-coastal period, first obtaining a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, San Diego, in 1981 with Professors Bernd Matthias and M. Brian Maple and then spending two years as a postdoc with Professor Mark Croft at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He has been on the Illinois Institute of Technology faculty since 1983 with a one-year sabbatical in Trieste, Italy at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics and has over 110 refereed publications.

Dr. Carlo Segre comes from a family or researchers. Both his father and mother were university faculty and researchers in the biological sciences. As a child, he avidly read the "Amateur Scientist" and "Mathematical Games" articles in Scientific American and usually tried to do all the projects that related to physical sciences and computing. As a high school student, Dr. Segre began taking courses at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the early admissions program. He realized that physics and chemistry were more interesting to him than biology so he majored in physics and, by finishing his B.S. in three years, was able to get a second B.S. in chemistry in addition to taking a lot of computer science courses. As a graduate student, he discovered he had an affinity for experimental research and joined the group of Professor Bernd Matthias at University of California, San Diego. Following he did his postdoc at Rutgers and then began as a researcher at the Illinois Institute of Technology where he was later a founder of the Center for Synchrotron Radiation Research and Instrumentation. At this time, Dr. Segre is continually excited about applying the techniques available to new problems in material science, chemistry, and biophysics.

In his free time, aside from research, Dr. Segre enjoys cycling and hiking, especially in the mountains. He also shares his home with a dog and two parrots, which keep him busy. Lastly, as an individual who truly cares about sharing information with others, Dr. Segre is a Debian Linux Developer, which allows him to take scientific software that is useful in the open source world and put it into the Debian GNU/Linux distribution.

Website: http://phys.iit.edu/~segre

In the News

Why Choose Physics?

College of Science, Illinios Institute of Technology

Range Warrior

College of Science, Illinios Institute of Technology

Changing the Face of Materials Research

Illinois Institute of Technology



Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2013

Fellow of the International Centre for Diffraction Data, 2006

IIT Sigma Xi Research Award, Senior Faculty Division, 2014


Rechargeable Nanoelectrofuel Electrodes and Devices for High Energy Density Flow Batteries

U.S. Patent No. 20,160,126,58: "Rechargeable Nanoelectrofuel Electrodes and Devices for High Energy Density Flow Batteries." Inventors: EV Timofeeva, JP Katsoudas, D Singh, CU Segre. Issued May 5, 2016.