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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Energy sparks conversations

The graduate Energy Science Group discusses a recurrent topic in the national agenda: renewable energy and energy independence.

The group started as an effort to network with other researchers on the field around campus. “”It was more knowing there was a need for a venue for graduate students to get together from a lot of disciplines, because there’s a lot of energy research going on in different departments,”” said Anne Simon, a fifth-year chemistry doctoral student and one of the more involved members.

Stemming from UA’s energy frontier research center called the Center for Interface Science: Solar Electric Materials, the group began meeting in February.

There are members from optical sciences, hydrology and even business. “”Solar’s a big burgeoning market for business start-ups,”” said Judy Jenkins, also a fifth-year doctoral student in the chemistry department.

Simon said that the weekly discussions take place at the Henry Koffler building, partly because most participants are in the chemistry department.  

Because of the different scientific backgrounds, there is a challenge when choosing speakers for the discussions. Trying to find a balance between technical conversation and language that can be understood by most other people not as involved with science can be difficult.

“”We also don’t want to segregate people who are just going to glaze over in the first five minutes, data point after data point,”” Simon said.

A lot of “”discussion leaders,”” as speakers are called, begin their presentations by giving an overview of the specific issue they’ll discuss. Among some of the outside guest speakers was Arun Majumdar, director for the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy.

For Dallas Matz, in his fourth year as a chemistry doctoral student, meeting people with the same interest in this type of research is one of the most valuable aspects of the group.

“”It’s hard when you’re walking down the street to know who else wants to talk about this kind of thing,”” Matz said.

Simon said she agrees. “”For me, I sit in a lab and I speak with maybe six people every day,”” about this kind of research. Connecting on a scientific and social level with various people about energy science is rewarding, she said.

The group has a website on the Ning social network with about 70 members, a tool for anyone interested in being up-to-date with the topics discussed at meetings. Attendance varies, and some more popular topics have drawn around 60 people, Simon said.

But the goal is to have members who are interested in the subject and in participating, rather than showing up only for extra credit, Jenkins said.

Simon stressed the importance of energy science on an international level. “”Our nation and world actually sit in sort of an energy science platform. What we actually need to accomplish in order to make renewable energy, specifically, solar or biofuels a significant part of the energy portfolio of the nation.””

The number of undergraduates who participate is scarce, and most who do are in the graduates’ research labs.

On the last meeting of the semester, Daniel Huebner, a senior majoring in economics and minoring in chemistry, was the first undergraduate to lead a discussion. Huebner’s presentation focused on OLEDs — organic compounds which emit light — after receiving electric currents and OPVs, organic photovoltaic cells used in solar energy.

Huebner’s interest in energy science started as a result of a general education class he took his freshman year, where he learned basic principles of chemistry and the energy crisis. He got involved in Neal Armstrong’s lab, the director for the energy frontier center.

He added a chemistry minor in order to learn more about things he encountered in his work at the lab. Huebner said he learned a lot about energy science from asking questions, many to people who participated in the group.

“”If you would’ve told me in my senior year in high school that I was going to be working in a research lab, I would’ve told you that you’re crazy. College’s pretty cool,”” Huebner said.

The group will resume meetings next semester on January 14th.

 

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