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March 28th, 2009
Meghan Schulz, University of Delaware: When I entered graduate school for materials science, I didn't expect to travel halfway around the world to conduct research on cutting-edge photovoltaics. I certainly didn't expect to be learning a new language, eating pig intestines, and attending the Summer Olympics to boot. As it turns out, it's all in a summer's work for an NSF-IGERT student.
My graduate research involves using nanostructured thin films for clean energy conversion. "Nanostructured thin film" is a fancy way of referring to a very, very thin layer of some specialized material - less than 1/100th of the thickness of a piece of paper.
Thin films have two major advantages: one, you use a very small amount of material, which is handy if the stuff is expensive. And two, the rules governing materials behavior tend to change when structures get down to the nanoscale; this can lead to greatly improved optical or electronic properties compared to a bulk material.
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