Bulovic Lab: Eletha Flores

  1. Organic photovoltaics on new substrates
    Organic photovoltaics on new substrates
  2. Operation of an organic solar cell
    Operation of an organic solar cell
  3. Layers of a typical solar cell
    Layers of a typical solar cell
  4. Structure of a planar organic solar cell
    Structure of a planar organic solar cell

Meet Eletha Flores, who has just entered the Bulovic group – with great enthusiasm for the chance to study nanofabrication of organic solar cells and more broadly build her career in energy related nanotechnology.

Eletha, can you describe how your interest in optoelectronics/organic solar cells evolved? What is your background in electrical engineering and science in general that enabled you to get to this point?

Eletha Flores:
“I became interested in energy issues as a freshman at MIT. I participated in the MIT Solar Decathlon project as a freshman where a team of students designs and builds a solar-powered house. Later, I joined a UROP that was aimed at improving energy storage devices. After a year of working at a start-up based on the same research, I decided to return [to MIT] to continue my studies in energy-related devices. I believe that harnessing solar energy has a great potential to reduce reliance on nonrenewable sources of energy. Moreover, I think it is a good thing for society to live more in sync with their environment; solar is one way we can do that.

I was also intrigued by nanotechnology and the physics of materials at the nanoscale starting in high school. I participated in the regional science fairs and won a subscription to Science News magazine. I read about new devices that are made on the nanoscale and then started to read about nanotechnologies online. Here is one of the devices that I thought was really cool: http://www.livescience.com/6969-world-smallest-motor.html. I saw this in 2005, when I was a junior in high school. I also participated in a part-time volunteer internship/mentee type at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, working on some visual aids for scientists who were working on the ANTS project: Autonomous Nanotechnology Swarms. The ANTs were an idea for space systems like shape-shifting robots or solar sails that took advantage of molecular (nanoscale) interactions.

My interest in engineering devices and materials on the nanoscale is what really propelled me into the UROP on carbon nanotube electrode work and then into Vladimir Bulovic’s lab making solar cells using small molecules and thin films (<100 nanometers in thickness). The energy aspect was a huge plus since making these devices can positively impact the environment. It is understood that materials at the nanoscale have different and sometimes special properties that we can take advantage of. In making these cells at the nanoscale, we are taking advantage of electrical properties that operate on the nanoscale such as exciton diffusion length."

You have only been at the Bulovic lab a short time, but you seem at home and excited to be here. How did you learn about it and what attracted you to be part of this group?

Eletha Flores:
“I learned about this lab through a fellow UROP student and good friend from undergrad. She was in the carbon nanotube UROP group and had taken an interest in solar as a senior in undergrad and moved to Vladimir’s lab. When I decided to return to my studies, she recommended Vladimir’s group. I spoke with him and luckily there was an opening for a graduate student to work on nanofabricated organic solar cells. I was thrilled at the opportunity!

I have had a lot of experience in nanofabrication from my previous job and UROP so I was able to jump right in and start making and testing devices within a month.

I love the interdisciplinary nature of the group: students are from Materials science, Physics, EE, and Chemistry (probably more). There are students of all levels, from summer undergraduates to post-docs who are about to leave to start their professorships. I have been able to learn a great deal from everyone around me. Everyone has a very collaborative spirit. The love to learn and make things is easily felt. People have been very willing to explain things to me as a new person.

I think that I can go far in this group and with this work. I feel this is a good investment in myself towards becoming a mature engineer of nanofabricated devices. I’ve even decided to apply for the PhD program in course 6.”

If you follow your dreams, what will you be doing in another ten years?

Eletha Flores:
“I am studying now so that I can make a big impact in the nanotechnologies later in life. I am not sure if I want to make that impact in academia or in industry. I do like the idea of technology being a public good and I support the government in their efforts to further technology for everyone’s sake. I would l love to have a career at a government-owned research institution like NREL or NASA. If I become a professor, I would likely seek support from government grants anyway, I imagine. Although, public opinion toward science is far from what it was during the “moon shot” period. Congress is withdrawing support from NASA little by little. People want to see technology in a commercial sense and government agencies that can translate research most effectively will be the most successful in my opinion. I would like to be in a pivotal place where technology is made and translated, with the public and shared use in mind, rather than monopolization and profit for few like it is now.”

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