When talking about solar cells in my department, the first name that perhaps pops up in everyone’s mind is Alex. Alex joined University of California, Santa Cruz in 2015 and is an assistant professor. Three days before the meeting, I was told by one of his graduate students that Alex was also going to the MRS meeting, I quickly scheduled a meet-up with him driven by my curiosity for his research.
As usually, I started our chat by asking him to introduce his research specialty and motivation.
Alex’s lab is doing research primarily associated with organic polymer semiconductors: light harvesting, fundamental physics and chemistries, structure-property relationships and organic solar cells. His interest in the organic molecules is rooted in their flexibility as well as complexibility. For example, change of molecular configuration will lead to gigantic optical and conductive characteristics modifications. And if you check the masterpieces created by nature, you might be surprised to find that they are ensembles that are similar as organic polymer-based supermolecules. Alex feels intensively attractive to explore how nature works.
Next, I asked him to comment on the perovskite solar cells and organic polymer solar cells. Perovskite solar cells are a newly emerged family of solar cells that exhibit superior solar-to-electricity conversion efficiency. He listed a number of unique characteristics of organic polymer: lightweight, ease of fabrication, tolerant to deficiencies and of course, the complexity. “It's intellectually fulfilling to explore the complex system. You cannot foretell whether solving one question would lead to any significance,” said Alex. Nothing is perfect. Different solar cells have their own niches and should fit in specific working conditions.
Since Alex is also serving as an advisor for the Undergraduate Chemistry Club at UC Santa Cruz, I asked him why he decided to be in this position. His motivation is three-fold. First, he enjoys seeing how students grow and develop. “I want to play a role in guiding the passionate undergraduates into the scientific research fields”, Alex added. He is spending his energy in encouraging undergraduates to graduate schools. Second, being an advisor for the undergraduate club enables him to directly recruit undergraduates who are interested in his research from the pool of talented. Third, being an advisor for undergraduates has constantly trained him on how to convey information effectively to audiences with different levels. Undergraduates often bring out questions he never thinks about. These unexpected questions often help him to be aware of any information he fails to convey, and drive him to develop alternative ways for successful information convey in the future.
His passion about research and responsibility for students have left me a deep impression. I wish him a bright future in the research field of organic polymers.
-Tianyu Liu UCSC