The Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST) Engineering Research Center (QESST) is funded by the NSF and Department of Energy. Its mission is to generate innovative solutions to sustainable electricity generation. QESST’s interdisciplinary team consists of faculty from 8 universities, scientists and leaders from world-renowned companies, and leading PV entrepreneurs. Education and outreach are important to the QESST mission. The goals of QESST education program is to increase the PV workforce, recruit young people to PV, and provide learning and experiences to ensure QESST students are building the necessary skill sets. The QESST summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program is an important part of meeting those goals. Thanks to a recent three-year, $314,261 award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), QESST funded a summer program aimed at exposing undergraduate students to opportunities in Photovoltaic research. Using grant funds, the QESST REU was able to add 8 undergraduates to its 2016 program, which took place May 31 to July 29. Student participants came from the states of Arizona, Mississippi, Ohio, Hawaii, South Carolina, California, and New Mexico. The specific aim of the QESST REU site was for undergraduate students to be introduced to research generally and solar research specifically, experience how coursework they are studying can be put into practice to tackle the terawatt challenge, and practice how the principles of scientific research can be applied to any engineering challenge.
The underlying approach to education through research during the REU program was to provide a mix of hands-on training, creative freedom within a structured environment (e.g., to design and implement experiments), and group activities and presentations. In particular, structured learning activities in the first two weeks included required safety and cleanroom training and an overview of solar cell processing, modeling, and characterization, after which each participant will receive in-depth, hands-on training in the tools and characterization equipment specific to their chosen project. The REU students then broke up into small groups of 2–3 and begin investigating a fundamental materials, device, or life-cycle research question of relevance to a terawatt solar future.
The students were supervised by graduate student mentors, who guided them in designing and implementing experiments and analyzing the results. Concurrently, the students attended lectures and workshops from the PIs and guest speakers on the theory of solar cell operation, fabrication and characterization techniques, the present status of the PV market, sustainability, policy, economics of solar cells, entrepreneurship, career opportunities in photovoltaics, engineering ethics, communication skills, and team building. The lecture series was designed to demonstrate how the students’ research projects fit into the bigger picture of the terawatt challenge. As a culminating event, participants shared their research during a poster presentation QESST faculty, post-doctoral scholars, graduate students, and industry members. Further, six participants received funding to travel to an energy conference to present their work in August.
Are you a researcher? Would you like to cite this paper?
Visit the ASEE document repository at
for more tools and easy citations.