NSF Supports Materials Science Research at Harvey Mudd

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Three professors in three fields from two colleges are celebrating a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for the acquisition of a standardized integrated toolset for photovoltaics fabrication and characterization. Hal Van Ryswyk, John Stauffer Professor of Chemistry and chair of the Department of Chemistry at Harvey Mudd College, and Pomona College physics professors Janice Hudgings and David Tanenbaum ’88, an HMC alumnus, each work on aspects of solar energy conversion.

“The equipment purchased with this award will give us new capabilities for our own studies as well as those where we collaborate,” says Van Ryswyk. “This is highly interdisciplinary work: Janice is trained as an electrical engineer, David as a physicist, and I am a chemist. We each bring unique outlooks and capabilities to the problems we study. This is the modern research environment in which our graduates will work.”

The $442,960 grant will fund the purchase of a fully automated photon conversion efficiency (IPCE/EQE) system, a programmable multiple source thermal evaporator, a high-speed optoelectronic characterization system, a suite of solar simulation lamps and calibration sensors, a probe station and sensors for a glovebox.

“I’m excited about the IPCE/EQE rig, an instrument that measures the fraction of each color of light that is converted to electricity by the devices we build,” says Van Ryswyk, whose lab focuses on optimizing absorption and charge extraction in dye-sensitized and quantum dot-based inverted bulk heterojunction cells. “It’s a neat way of peeking into the internal workings of a photovoltaic cell, allowing us to decide where we need to spend more time and effort to optimize the cell. This commercial instrument, with all of its advanced capabilities, will replace a rudimentary instrument lovingly hand-built by Trevor McQueen ’09 as his senior thesis that has been a workhorse in our lab.”

The Colleges have a long history of successful research collaboration and shared facilities, such as a shared microscopy facility used by researchers (mostly advanced undergraduates) across all five colleges. Using commercialized research tools enhances laboratory safety and better prepares such students to enter research laboratories in graduate school as well as the private sector.

“There are very few labs in the world doing this type of work with the full-throated participation of undergraduate coworkers,” says Van Ryswyk. “Acquiring this equipment will allow us to enhance our local and external collaborations and accelerate our independent results by upgrading the accuracy, reproducibility and compatibility of our experiments relative to labs equipped with standardized photovoltaic research toolsets.”