Monday, May 4, 2015

Solar Cell Smackdown

          We're getting to that point in the semester where it's time to look back at all that we've accomplished and take some time to ponder the challenges we've had, but most importantly, the end is in sight. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, in true 20.109 fashion, we still have a lot of hurdles to jump before we can get to that light. So....let's talk about solar cells. Yes, it may be true that perhaps the biggest hurdle to jump is successfully completing our research proposal, but let us not diminish the importance of the solar cells we have just made. More importantly, let us not forget the competition that comes with our solar cells. Throughout the semester in 20.109, we have been working diligently on our modules, hoping to get good results and hoping our final reports wouldn't consist of hand-waving and dejected explanations of what went wrong. However, now in module 3, we have raised the stakes. Yes, we still have a report to do for the module, and we have to discuss the results in general, but the bulk of this module was focused on trying to be the best if you boil it down. We were asked to create the best solar cell we could and blow past the competition.
          Now, maybe I'm being slightly over-dramatic about this, and maybe I'm the only one who saw it like this, but this module made me feel like I was out in the world of industry. WF Team Pink was my company, and I wanted to see my company get their product out on the market first by beating out the other companies in the room. We were given a task and asked to optimize it. We were not performing open-ended research or studying some biological concept that could maybe applied to some product in the future. Professor Belcher did an amazing job of showing us directly the impact solar cells are already having; it was made clear to us that these solar cells were a feasible solution to real world problems. It was not a question of what our project could accomplish. This is what I imagine industry to be like. You are working on a product that should have a very clear result. You are looking to lower blood pressure or create a prosthetic leg with lifelike joints. You know exactly what you're trying to accomplish. It is direct. It is detailed. It is a full story with a beginning, middle, and end. Research in academia and industry are both exciting in their own ways. They are both trying to provide something to the scientific world that did not previously exist before. However, module 3 made me understand industry in way that I hadn't before. Working with a direct end game gave me a sense of purpose that was different than what I had experienced with the first two modules. Our results were a clear value for efficiency of our solar cell. There was no room for interpretation. There was no gray area, and I think there is something to be said for that. Now, as I approach that light at the end of the tunnel, I ironically find that I am in need of some light on my future. Perhaps, there might actually be a path for me through the industry world, but I guess I'll just have to wait and see.

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