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ODU Researchers Win NSF Grant to Create Educational Opportunities for Solar Energy Technology

gnamkoon-gon-namkoongGon Namkoong

Old Dominion University solar energy researchers have received a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) aimed at funding education in photovoltaic (PV) energy concepts.

The four-year grant, led by Gon Namkoong, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering in ODU's Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology, is aimed at the urgent local and national need to prepare undergraduate students in solar energy education.

Co-investigators involved in this project are Sylvain Marsillac, professor of electrical and computer engineering; Associate Dean Shirshak Dhali, professor of electrical and computer engineering; Gene Hou, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; and Chung-Hao Chen, professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Given a high priority on the U.S. national agenda, solar cell technologies are receiving increased attention to secure energy sources and are undergoing rapid technical advancements. The $200 billion PV energy industry needs workers trained in the technologies used in the fabrication of solar cells, and the generation and transmission of electricity generated from the sun.

"Strong educational support is vital to this, and current educational curricula should reflect cutting-edge trends and needs in this sector," said Namkoong, who works at ODU's Applied Research Center in Newport News.

In the United States alone, enough PV panels to produce more than 5,000 megawatts of electricity are installed each year, and the Department of Defense intends to increase its production of renewable energy to 20 percent of its total energy consumption by 2020.

As the future workers in this technological field, today's students are challenged more than ever to be creative and think critically in order to confront contemporary issues related to solar technologies, including a singular body of knowledge about the PV field.

"This is of paramount importance in that scientific discoveries have been made when solid background knowledge of principles, concepts and theory is synergistically combined with scientific processing skills," Namkoong said.

The grant also involves an NSF-funded pilot capstone project (PIs: Namkoong and Marsillac) being done at both ODU and Norfolk State University, balancing virtual instruction with physical, hands-on activities in a synergistic learning strategy, Namkoong said.

Feeding into this education-based grant is the knowledge being acquired by researchers in ODU's PV Institute, research into fabrication of solar cells, solar array mounting and tracking systems, manufacturing of PV technology and other facets of PV technology.

Led by Marsillac, the PV Institute was created to leverage the multidisciplinary research expertise of ODU in alternative energy technologies for energy security and economic development.

Marsillac, one of the country's leading researchers into photovoltaic energy, has received more than $3 million in funding from sources such as the U.S. Department of Energy and NSF since arriving in Norfolk four years ago.