I have always been interested in solving problems. The world is full of problems, and I have no problem finding problems to solve. One major problem we as humans face today, and will face for a long time, is how and from what source we gather energy. Mankind, especially in the West, is “addicted” to oil, as well as other fossil fuels. We drill oil and mine coal to heat our homes and fuel our cars. Before scientists realized that the byproducts of burning fossil fuels pollute our air and are believed to be closely related to global warming, we had no reason to question them as a source for fuel. As we deepened our understanding and broadened our awareness, mankind decided to search for alternatives as a means of energy. The search for the elixir of an alternative source of energy draws global attention, and I want to be part of it. I think participation in the search is fun, rewarding, and part of what I am doing this summer.
Hello. I am Benjamin Haugeberg and I hail from Watford City, North Dakota. I am currently going to be a junior at Valley City State University here in North Dakota majoring in Chemistry and Psychology. This summer I have the privilege of working in Dr. Seth Rasmussen’s Organic/Inorganic Materials lab at NDSU. The Rasmussen lab focuses on synthesizing organic polymers (i.e. plastics) with electrical conductive properties. Coming from a simple background, I am amazed at the complexity of the types of material being discovered and tested and the ingenuity and passion demonstrated to develop such materials.
A proposed source of alternative energy comes from our Sun in the form of solar power. The organic polymers the Rasmussen lab is synthesizing are designed to be used in organic solar cells (OPVs), as well as organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) and organic transistors. When I applied for the REU, I thought this would be a great opportunity to study a specific aspect of science I was interested in.
Before this summer, I had a limited understanding of the chemical properties of plastics. I knew plastics were widely used in our world today, but all of the plastics I knew about were electrical insulators. This summer I have learned that some organic polymers can conduct electricity based on how they are put together. I remember my high school chemistry teacher saying, “structure determines function,” and this principle holds true for plastics. One could say not all materials are created equal. Some are made to be solids, some liquids, and some gasses under certain conditions. Some are made to eat, and others are toxic. Some organic materials are insulators and some are conductors based on their structure.
I have been assigned to make a molecule called DTP, dithienopyrrole. DTP is a conjugated organic monomer consisting of two aromatic thiophene rings bonded together with a pyrrole group with good florescent and electrical conductive properties because of its planar structure and conjugation. These properties allow electrons to flow relatively easily within DTP’s structure. DTP has been studied extensively by Dr. Rasmussen and the students who have worked for him.
The primary reason for the extensive research in the electrical and optical properties of organic polymers is based in a practical interest of our society, processiblity. Organic materials have the capability to be mass produced and applied in ways that are more advantageous than inorganic materials. Take TV screens and computer monitors for example. In the past decade, through technological advancements, both have become considerably thinner with higher quality, but are made from primarily inorganic material. Well, the material for organic light emitting diodes this lab is making may someday be used in screens and monitors as thin as a sheet of paper and just as flexible. As for the solar cells, they may someday be sprayed on siding or “painted” on a house giving it the ability to generate its own electricity. Exciting!
From my experience so far, I have learned many chemical techniques used by experienced chemists. I really enjoy working in the lab. I get to play with materials that we don’t have access to at VCSU, and I am attempting to make a molecule no one else has ever tried before. The novelty of working on something new hasn’t really worn off yet. I now see why people devote their entire lives to science. Also, I have learned a great deal about how solar cells work, organic and inorganic, and a thing or two about what’s holding them from replacing fossil fuels as a source of energy.
Although I have enjoyed the experience so far, I am unsure yet whether I will pursue a career in this field. I chose to major in opposite ends of the science spectrum because I don’t know what I want to do with my career yet. It would be all right to say I’m sort of still floating in the career pool looking for something that really primes my pump. The main reason I applied to Research on the Prairies and joined the Rasmussen lab was to gain experience in the chemistry field on a graduate level and to obtain a deeper understanding of what materials are being researched in alternative forms of energy. This research opportunity has given me the knowledge to make a good decision about which path to follow in the future. I am grateful for the opportunity and hope I can do my part in the scientific work.