Fun with the Sun

image001 Twenty Biotechnology students traveled to Vanderbilt University’s VINSE laboratories on Tuesday, April 29, 2014 for a day in the lab learning about alternative energy and the present need our society, in fact, our world has for developing alternative means of producing electricity.  The lab consisted of making prototype solar cells using blackberry dye to enhance the power output of their cell.

The students were engaged in a friendly competition to convert photons (light energy) into current (electrical energy), with the best team winning Vanderbilt t-shirts!  Students mashed blackberries and used ethanol to assist in the filtration process, and used it to extract the dye and adsorb it onto their TiO2 (titanium dioxide) substrate/electrode.  Once this process was complete, students took a ‘stick’ of graphite and prepared a second electrode.  These were ‘sandwiched’ together and iodide was placed between them as an electrolyte to complete the cell.   Finally, each team’s cells were connected to a meter to measure the current output when illuminated with white light.  Every team successfully produced milliamps of current with a solar cell that was approximately 1 inch square!  This was very impressive.  The winning team, Lupe Medina and Alyssa Buckland, produced 6.3 mA!

The day ended with students operating a Scanning Electron Microscope or SEM.  This equipment creates surface images on the nanoscale!