00:00 AM

Dr. Paul Leu receives NSF grant to prepare students to develop the next generation of solar cells

PITTSBURGH  (October 1, 2012) … Engaging engineering students in the development of low-cost, high-efficiency solar cells through innovative instruction is the focus of a recent National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded to  Paul W. Leu, PhD , assistant professor of industrial engineering;  Guangyong Li, PhD , assistant professor of electrical engineering;  Jung-kun Lee, PhD , assistant professor of materials science; and Sam Spiegel, PhD, chair of the Disciplinary Literacy in Science team and associate director of outreach and development at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. The project was developed with help from the Engineering Education Research Center, directed by  Mary Besterfield-, PhD , associate professor of industrial engineering.

Awarded through the NSF's Nanotechnology Undergraduate Education Program, "Flipping Learning Models to Illuminate Nanomanufacturing and Nanomaterials for Photovoltaics," will establish an interdisciplinary education and research framework to prepare future engineers to take on the grand challenge of manufacturing low-cost, high-efficiency solar cells through the scalable integration of nanomaterials. 

"Flipped learning" is a method of teaching that utilizes the Internet to leverage learning skills. Rather than being lectured to in a class and then completing homework, students first study a given topic via online learning, then return to the classroom or lab to apply the knowledge to solve problems. The students work alone or in groups while the instructor provides guidance but not immediate solutions. The grant is funded through September 30, 2014, and will include high school and undergraduate students, as well as minority populations.

"The National Academy of Engineering has identified making solar energy economical as a grand challenge of the 21st century, and so my fellow investigators and I wanted to develop a method to bring young thinkers into the equation," Dr. Leu said. "By engaging high school students as well as our own undergraduates, we'll encourage students with the four "I's": inspirational motivation, intellectual foundations, innovation skills, and increased involvement."

According to the grant abstract, given the critical role of nanotechnology in next-generation photovoltaics and the need for educational programs to prepare future engineers to develop new innovations for this application, the principal investigators propose to develop an interdisciplinary education and research framework for illuminating photovoltaic devices, nanomanufacturing, and nanomaterial concepts and experimental practices. 

This project will (1) design a flipped undergraduate course, ENGR 1066 - Introduction to Solar Cells and Nanotechnology, where lecturing and reading occur outside of the classroom and active learning involving conceptual exercises, learning tasks, and instructional laboratories occur-in-class, (2) teach this flipped undergraduate course, which will impact 30 to 40 engineering students per year and be part of the Swanson School's new Nanoscience and Engineering Certificate, (3) advise undergraduate summer research projects through the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation which will support roughly six students per year, and (4) create online content for high school students by extending INVESTING NOW outreach through Pitt's Engineering Office of Diversity that has involved about 150 high school students per year.