Andrew Stella, 2013, Chemical Engineering
It is commonly cited by solar power advocates that the rate of energy incident on Earth’s surface from the sun outpaces our global consumption by several orders of magnitude. So why then aren’t solar panels ubiquitous? One reason is cost. The subject of my internship with the Ceramic Materials Lab, the dye-sensitized solar cell, is a relatively young and promising solution. From an energy challenge viewpoint, the goal of my research was to help both decrease the cost and increase the lifetime of these devices through component engineering. With this motivation in mind my time was spent assembling cells, running electrochemical tests on those cells, analyzing data, and reading literature in order to guide my research steps. I spent the first half of my internship developing a procedure to make high efficiency baseline cells, and then moved to testing cells with carbonaceous counter electrodes (lower cost) and stable electrolytes (extended lifetime). The combination of components I used in a single cell was unprecedented, and thus the data I gathered and analyzed is uniquely useful in addressing this energy challenge. I plan to work in materials science and this experience taught me many techniques and skills essential to the discipline.