Thursday, July 18, 2013

SRAP Student Spotlights: Elena, Holden and Solar Cells

SRAPer: Elena Martinez
From: Colorado
Grade: Senior
Plans after high school: Stay in Colorado for university and study something related to math or science

SRAPer: Holden Bindl
From: Wyoming
Grade: Junior
Plans after high school: attend a university, probably UW

The stereotypical image of a scientist is an individual working in a lab, clad in a white lab coat. While Elena Martinez and Holden Bindl have worked in a lab and worn lab coats, they’ve found that being a scientist can mean working collaboratively. During their SRAP experience this summer they worked together with Dr. Jon Pikal, an electrical and computer engineer, on solar cells.
“We’re working on developing different methods of building solar cells inexpensively,” Holden says. “We are using different materials and measuring how much energy they can absorb from the light.”
A solar cell converts energy from light into electricity. Part of Holden and Elena’s project involved using lasers to study to the properties that make up a solar cell. For Elena, working with the laser was the best part.
“We’ve been shooting the laser towards this device called a monochromator,” Elena says. “What that does is separate the wavelength out so that we can detect a certain wavelength at a certain point. At first, it was kind of hard. I didn’t really know how to collect this type of data. Once I got it though, it was pretty cool.”
Using a laser offered Holden and Elena more control than trying the experiments with sunlight, because the light from the sun is so variable.

“With the laser we can control the color of the light, the amount of light, when the light is on and even the amount of time the light is on,” says Dr. Pikal.

Having this amount of control allowed for Elena and Holden to accurately test and compare different materials that could be used to build solar cells.

Prior to launching into their project and working with the laser, Holden and Elena spent their first two weeks training.
“In this type of field, there’s a lot of background knowledge that has to be gained,” Dr. Pikal says. “You don’t learn this stuff in high school.”
Elena and Holden definitely learned things they never would have in high school, such as how to use a laser. Both students received laser safety training and passed the laser safety exam.
On Friday, July 19th, they will present their research to their SRAP peers and all of the mentors for the program. SRAP is a six-week long intensive research program based at the University of Wyoming and sponsored by Wyoming EPSCoR.

By Kali S. McCrackin

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