4:41 p.m., Oct. 15, 2008----Meghan Schulz had several dreams as an undergraduate at the College of William and Mary: to work for General Electric, to attend the Olympic Games and to have an international experience. She never expected that all of those dreams would come true at once, but they did last summer, when she had the opportunity to work at GE's China Technology Center in Shanghai for six weeks.
Schultz, now a University of Delaware doctoral student advised by Prof. Ismat Shah in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, is doing research on the synthesis and characterization of thin-film titanium dioxide electrodes for use in photo-electrochemical cells. These systems have the potential to generate large quantities of hydrogen fuel from water photocatalytically, using only clean power from the sun.
Her trip to China was enabled by the NSF-sponsored Sustainable Energy from Solar Hydrogen IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship) program at UD. The goal of the IGERT program is to provide the resources and opportunities for graduate students to address not only the science and technology of solar hydrogen systems but also the economic and policy challenges associated with implementing those systems.
Schulz, who double majored in chemistry and government as an undergraduate, says she is very interested in the political and social aspects of renewable energy.
“Our society's easy access to fossil fuels has brought us a high standard of living, but at a steep environmental and social price,” she says. “I'm thrilled to be part of this new IGERT program, which will help train the next generation of energy leaders.”
Schulz's six weeks in Shanghai were truly an international experience. She rented a room in a house with five other students--from five different countries. “Shanghai is a very cosmopolitan city,” she says, “and the people there were very welcoming.”
While at GE's Functional Materials Lab, Schulz gained experience working on cadmium telluride thin films for photovoltaic (PV) applications. Unlike traditional crystalline silicon solar cells, thin-film PV has the advantage of using much less material, leading to lower cost per watt. She conducted market research on third-generation PV technologies and presented the results to the team. In addition, she received training in the corporate culture and was exposed to the Six Sigma methodology for quality control.
Although all of the GE employees in Shanghai speak English, everyday meetings were conducted in Chinese. “This experience gave me new empathy for the many international grad students in our program at UD,” Schulz says. “It's not easy to sit in a cubicle and hear conversations that you don't understand going on around you.”
Schulz's trip included four days in Beijing--enough time to attend two Olympic soccer games and visit the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. She intends to return to China to experience village life, which she knows will be quite different from her stay in the major cities.
After earning her doctorate, Schulz says she plans to work in industrial development of renewable energy technologies.
“My experience in China can only help me,” she says. “It's a huge challenge to solve sustainable energy problems in a country of exploding growth like China. Addressing that challenge will take both technical knowledge and diplomatic ability.”
Article by Diane Kukich
Photos courtesy of Meghan Schulz