Scientists at Four NW Universities Partner to Advance Solar Energy

April 19, 2016

Murdock Trust makes a $240,000 grant to progress the science and to encourage smaller universities to collaborate on research


TACOMA, Wash.
– Scientists from four Pacific Northwest universities will partner to research an emerging technology for improving the efficiency of photovoltaic solar cells, thanks to the support of a $240,000 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust.

The innovative collaboration among the largely undergraduate institutions was initiated by the Murdock Trust to help advance the science on renewable energy and to build the capacity of smaller colleges to take a key role in important research.

The three-year grant to the newly-formed Collaborative Research Alliance will support materials science research by chemistry and physics professors at George Fox University, Pacific Lutheran University, University of Puget Sound, and Western Washington University. Puget Sound Associate Professor of Physics Amy Spivey will be the program director for the alliance.

The team will investigate luminescent solar concentrators (LSCs), devices that collect sunlight over a large area, focus the light, and convert shorter wavelengths of light into longer wavelengths. The resulting light can be converted to electrical energy in photovoltaic solar cells—such as those found in the solar panels used in homes and solar energy plants—much more efficiently than current technology allows. Scientists at laboratories worldwide are exploring the potential for LSC technology. Ultimately the work could lead to a cheaper means of harnessing the energy of the sun.

“Physical science today is increasingly collaborative and interdisciplinary, but often faculty members at undergraduate universities, who spend the majority of their time on classroom teaching, find it difficult to develop and sustain collaborative research programs,” said Spivey. “I am thrilled that the Murdock Trust has seen fit to bring together and support this collaborative project.”

The alliance brings together David Patrick (an expert in solar concentrators) in the Department of Chemistry at Western Washington University, Andrea Munro (semiconductor nanocrystals) in the Department of Chemistry at Pacific Lutheran University, Carlisle Chambers (synthetic chemistry) in the Department of Biology and Chemistry at George Fox University, Mark Bussell (heterogeneous catalysis) in the Department of Chemistry and Advanced Materials Science and Engineering Center at Western Washington University, and Amy Spivey (optics and spectroscopy) in the Department of Physics at  University of Puget Sound.

The benefits of having scientists from different institutions work together goes beyond the optimization of the research work. Each university will gain from experiencing the research culture and from sharing the equipment at the other schools. The professors also will be able to share expertise on practical goals, such as winning competitive research grants. Undergraduate students from each school will be involved in the research project and will have their learning experience enriched by the variety of expertise.

“We are very excited to help bring together this group of respected scientists to work collaboratively on one of the key energy challenges that face our nation,” said Moses Lee, research and science grants program director for the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. “This is one of the grants being made during the Murdock Trust’s 40th year of working to fulfill the charge from Jack Murdock to nurture and enrich the educational, spiritual, social, and cultural life of individuals, families, and communities. As these universities fulfill their mission, we fulfill our mission.”

The Collaborative Research Alliance team will meet regularly to discuss their work and to sow the seeds for future similar collaborations. A key feature of their meetings will be to engage faculty not currently in the alliance and encourage new collaborations among scholars and researchers. Team members also will share ideas of best practices for supporting a vibrant undergraduate research culture.

In addition to this alliance focused on physical science research, the Murdock Trust also supports a separate alliance of three predominantly undergraduate institutions aimed at advancing a contemporary topic in the life sciences.

Press photos of the professors involved in the Collaborative Research Alliance are available upon request.
Photos on page: From top right: Associate Professor of Physics Amy Spivey works with Lillis Scholar Jordan Fonseca '18 in the physics lab. Fonseca will help with the research, backed by a Puget Sound Summer Research Grant; Amy Spivey (photos by Ross Mulhausen); A hybrid solar and wind power device called GROW, from an exhibit at MoMA in New York. Energy is gathered via the "leaves." Photo by Kenny Louie.

Tweet this: New LSC #SolarEnergy research partners @georgefox @PLUNews @univpugetsound @WWU start work, thanks to @MurdockTrust http://bit.ly/1S8Cwoi

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