April 16, 2009
I love MRS for bringing the materials community together!!! It makes me remember that the science world isn't as big as it seems... What brought this on? I ran into my old adviser today! Did an internship at NREL a couple of summers ago through the SULI program (it was one of the best summers of my life; you should check it out if you've got a free summer!) working with transparent conducting oxides. Xiaonan Li, my adviser that summer, gave a talk at Symposium M today! I dropped in to see her speak, and said hello to her and all of her NREL colleages, who actually remembered me!! Good times, good memories.
Talking to her made me think about the interface between basic research and industry. Xiaonan's work at NREL is really at the cusp of these areas-- you can get really high efficiency thin film solar cells that are homogeneous and well controlled when they're only 2 or 3 square centimeters in area! But when you try and scale that up to 6x6 inch panels or larger... you run into problems. So you must have people working on the scale up process. That made me wonder about where these people belong?? Are they best suited to national labs, or should they be more associated with start-ups and industry?? Because I've observed in my limited time working at LBL that there are negative views about research that has a little too much to do with industry-- and people politicking and trying to push them out to make room for more basic science. Guys, your awesome finding isn't going to help anyone unless you can scale it up for mass production! And you have to respect the people working on that!! Science for the sake of science is great, and often beautiful and satisfying... but you also want to be able to apply it to help the world, right?