The importance of renewable energy is growing. One area of renewable energy that has really showed promise in its efficiency is solar energy.
My name is Emily Orenstein, an undergraduate from Carroll College located in Helena, Montana. I am working towards completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Chemistry with Mathematics and French minors. This opportunity at North Dakota State University is my first experience performing research in a chemistry lab. Carroll College is a smaller school than NDSU and does not have the same research opportunities. The opportunity to work in Dr. Köse’s Materials Chemistry lab has been a fascinating experience that has taught me a great amount about organic solar cells and what I would be looking forward to in graduate school, as my career goal is to obtain a doctorate degree in the chemistry field. My interest in renewable energy grew as a result of an opportunity to travel to China. My wish to pursue a career in an area of chemistry that will have a positive impact on the environment has come from my love for being in the outdoors. My hope to protect the environment for future generations is the ultimate goal of my career. Throughout my experience visiting Beijing, Guangzhou and Xi’an, China, I saw the immense effect pollution has on the environment and health of the Chinese citizens. For the short amount of time I was visiting China, my respiratory health was affected by the poor air quality. My experience seeing the immense amount of pollution not only in China, but all around us has really fueled my desire to protect the environment.
Dr. Köse’s lab is focused on organic solar cells. Development of organic solar cells is a fast growing field and focuses on how to convert solar energy into electricity. The cells I have been working with are unlike the solar cells commercially on the market today as those currently available are silicon based. Using 99% pure silicon to construct solar cells is expensive. The organic-based solar cells I have been making are non-metallic based devices. These organic solar cell devices use less costly materials and use less of these materials than the commercially available silicon-based solar cells. One of the goals of the research I am performing at NDSU is to make solar cells more efficient and cost-effective in the hopes that solar cells will be more widely used instead of other energy sources that are not renewable and more harmful to the environment.
The commercially available silicon-based solar cells are much higher in efficiency compared to the organic solar cells our lab is researching. Power conversion efficiency is the percent of light energy that is converted into electricity. The research behind organic solar cells strives to increase the efficiency of organic devices to be comparable to the silicon-based solar cells commercially available today. My work has consisted of making the solar cells and testing their power conversion efficiencies to see how well each device works. Light energy causes the device to generate electricity through a series of energy transfers. We alter the make-up of the solar cell to determine different properties of the device including the power conversion efficiency and charge mobility. I have been enjoying this research because we get a final product that is a solar cell that has the ability to create electricity from light, and we get to measure how well the device works.
My experience in Fargo has been very positive. Outside of my research, I have been fortunate enough to experience some of the fun summer activities in Fargo such as Redhawks games and hiking in the Sheyenne National Grasslands and Maplewood State Park. The Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program itself has provided programs by faculty members of the Biochemistry and Chemistry department to deepen my understanding of the Biochemistry/Chemistry field whether it is talking about my research to my peers, making a poster display of my research or reading articles about other research that is being done in the organic solar cell field across the world. Not just the research itself, but my interactions with other REU students has helped my experience to be a good one. Talking with undergraduate peers helps me to better understand my research and educates me about other areas within the Biochemistry and Chemistry department.
The REU program has helped me to focus on one area of research and learn as much as I can about this area of renewable energy chemistry. This has been a great learning experience in being able to gain understanding about the research being performed in the field I am interested in studying in graduate school. I hope to continue my education in the hopes of contributing to the world in a way that will better the health of the environment. Organic solar cell research is so important because we are seeing detrimental effects of our pollution on the environment. Organic solar cell research will hopefully lead to renewable energy becoming more efficient and cost-effective for the entire world to utilize.