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Energy Scholars Follow Their Bliss

Last January, the School of Engineering initiated a new program, the Latimer Energy Scholars—a select group of undergraduate students who have identified themselves as having a strong interest in learning about sustainable energy systems, and graduate students who act as mentors. Program director and professor of electrical engineering Tim Healy reports, “Typically, undergraduates start the program as freshmen, and improve their expertise through the four or more years they are enrolled at Santa Clara University. They study the fundamentals of sustainable energy and carry out practical, hands-on projects of increasing sophistication as they progress through the program. Much of their work is self-guided—they determine what areas interest them most and follow their passion.”

latimerKirsten Petersen ’13 got hooked on the study of renewable energy when she helped assemble solar suitcases at a We Care Solar workshop. “That experience inspired me to get involved with promoting portable solar devices for the developing world.” During the past year, she has been studying various solar technologies and had the opportunity to develop and present a solar technology training talk for incoming Santa Clara students. She later traveled to Uganda as a Global Social Benefit Fellow to share her expertise with social entrepreneurs at Solar Sister. “I had practice on how to present solar technology in a way that makes sense to anyone, regardless of technical background, and with my hands-on experience in the Latimer Energy Lab I was ready when the opportunity came up,” she said.

Daniel Shull ’14 (bioengineering) and Peter Stephens ’14 (mechanical engineering), are also focused on solar energy. They have been conducting experiments comparing results from a Solyndra solar module with data from a flat panel of the same material and one of a different material. Maggie Jones ’15 and Kerbasi Ugarte ’14, both mechanical engineers, have been applying their research on cooling solar panels to development of the PV system for SCU’s 2013 Solar Decathlon house.

Mobile innovation is the focus of mechanical engineering junior David Patzelt’s research. Professor Radha Basu of our Frugal Innovation Laboratory introduced him to research being conducted on a “CellScope”—a microscope attached to a cell phone for testing of TB and malaria in rural areas, with a particular focus on Third World countries. “When she explained the CellScope,” he said, “I immediately decided that it would be the focus of my summer research. It is important to me that everyone in the world has access to human rights such as healthcare and education. I’m currently familiarizing myself with the advancements being made in the mobile sector to see what I can contribute. Who knows where this research will take me.”

latimer2Jocelyn Tan ’15 (electrical engineering) also has big aspirations. “My dream is to develop a new or existing form of renewable energy for the future of transportation technology. As a Latimer Scholar, I am exposed to sustainable devices that will soon replace common, yet inefficient, operating systems,” she said. Her work focuses on research and experimentation of a PEM (proton exchange membrane) hydrogen fuel cell, an instrument which converts chemical energy from hydrogen into electricity through a variety of chemical reactions. Tan adds, “Data collected will be used to understand the cell’s internal structure and how effectively it performs under standard conditions.”

The Scholars all agree that the program has surpassed their expectations. “Any area you’re interested in, Dr. Healy can help you study; he gives you contacts galore,” said Petersen. Shull adds, “Being able to meet people from industry has been the best outcome of the program. Connections are everything in the business world and we have lots of opportunities to make those connections.”