The sun hits the earth with enough energy every year that it could power every home and electrical device on the earth. So why do we not convert more of that energy into electricity?
“The simple answer is that solar cells are expensive and not particularly efficient,” Kacey Meaker ’08 recently told a group of Randolph College students. “How do we solve that?” she asked.
Meaker is investigating ways to make better solar cells in pursuit of her Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley. This week, Meaker spoke at a seminar that was part of Randolph College’s Summer Research Program.
Meaker said that solar cells would have to cover about 0.2 percent of the earth’s land mass in order to produce enough electricity to power the whole world. That is roughly half the size of Texas. Her graduate school research focuses on nanophotovoltaic molecules—substances that produce electric energy from light—in hopes of finding less-expensive materials for solar cells. “You can cover half of Texas if you can find the right molecules that are cheap enough,” she said.
Meaker participated in the Summer Research Program as an undergraduate student at the College. In one of those projects, she helped Peter Sheldon, a Randolph physics professor, research the science of roller coasters. During the Summer Research Program this year, Sheldon, Meaker, and Tim Slesinger ’14 are continuing the roller coaster research, which will culminate in a book.
Meaker gave students some advice about deciding whether to pursue graduate studies, preparing for graduate school, and choosing a school to attend. She said that the Summer Research Program provides a good glimpse into graduate school life.
“It’s like Summer Research all year round,” Meaker said. “This summer is a good opportunity to see whether you would like to go to graduate school.”