I was awarded the Future Energy Leaders Summer Fellowship under the umbrella of the UA Renewable Energy Network (REN) in April 2016, which allowed me to partake in a unique research opportunity in Jena, Germany during the summer of 2016. I traveled overseas to the university town of Jena, situated in mid-east Germany, and conducted research in a collaborator’s lab. The Friedrich Schiller University was founded in 1558 alongside the Saale river which meanders its way through the city landscape, and the university buildings are peppered throughout the city as is customary for European campuses.
I spent most of my time in the Physics building under the supervision of Prof. Torsten Fritz. The main goal of this international collaboration with Prof. Oliver Monti’s laboratory at Arizona was to provide fundamental insights into interfacial interactions in novel hybrid materials towards improved renewable energy devices, such as solar cells. In order to achieve this goal, I branched out to other multidisciplinary research groups on the Jena campus, including chemistry, physics and astronomy. I was able to expand the breadth of analysis approaches available to me while simultaneously learning new experimental techniques and establishing further collaborations.
Renewable energy sources are already firmly established throughout Germany in the form of solar, wind, and hydro energy sources. Much of the country is currently “off the grid” and the regions that are not are moving in the direction to be completely self-sustaining. Jena receives some of its energy through renewable means. The bustling optical and precision industries in the town, however, make it more difficult to be completely cut off from main electricity and water given the current renewable energy supply.
Germany has adopted green energy as its main priority and more and more countries are following suit. Consequently, there is a demand to design more efficient devices than what is currently available on the market. The fundamental research we perform on hybrid organic/inorganic interfaces helps to provide tunable and efficient interfaces through investigations of electronic structure and charge-transfer dynamics on ultrashort time-scales. Specifically, I studied the electronic structure of a two-dimensional material, molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), paired with conjugated molecules primarily using optical and photoelectron spectroscopy analysis techniques. These studies helped to reveal charge transfer mechanisms that are critical for understanding charge generation and charge separation between the materials of interest. These processes determine power generation in renewable energy platforms.
To conclude, the research opportunity in Jena, Germany exposed me to many elements of academic research in the form of learning new analysis techniques, establishing multidisciplinary collaborations and dissemination of scientific knowledge. In general, this international research experience reinforced the ideals of an independent research scientist in the form of quick thinking, problem solving, creativity and persistence.