My background is in environmental engineering and when I came to ASU I joined the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology to study cyanobacterial (more broadly microalgal) derived biofuel. It’s a great project and I’ve worked with some great people, however it was easy to get boxed into my specific research area, to some degree not even knowing the full extent of the problem that I was trying to solve.
Through a combination of classes, site visits, seminars, journal clubs, and interactions with the IGERT SUN cohort, the IGERT SUN program really pulled me out of that box. I now have a good understanding of photovoltaic technology, solar thermal energy, and an exposure to energy policy which I’ve always had a curiosities about but wouldn’t have studied because they aren’t in my field. I also have a clear visions of the problem: we are trying to solve one of the largest challenges of our era which is finding carbon neutral energy, and it won’t be from one technology alone that this problem is solved.
Throughout the program we were challenged with making interdisciplinary solutions. At one point this involved the hair-brained scheme of developing a preliminary design for a power station fueled by rice husks, with carbon capture in a photobioreactor growing algae that fertilized the rice field, and the silica in the rice husk ash was reformed into solar grade silica for photovoltaic production. In another case, we took an entrepreneurship class where a classmate and I developed a business model for algae beer.