Meet Our Students

Tricia Bull, MSE Doctoral Student

Tricia Bull wanted to get into something new called "nanotechnology" during her senior year of high school in Ohio in 2000, but she didn't know where to start.

 

So Bull started at the top; she e-mailed Richard Smalley, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for discovering fullerenes, and asked him what to do.

 

"He said study materials science and I blindly obliged," Bull said. "I had no idea what I'd be getting into."

 

Now an MSE doctoral student, Bull has her eye on bringing cheap, renewable energy to the developing world. The late Smalley's nanometer-sized fullerenes are a key component in her research on organic photovoltaics (OPVs).

 

Bull, fellow MSE doctoral student Brad Macleod, and eight students from other U.S. universities visited Kanpur, India in December to study OPVs in an intensive two-week program called the International Winter School for Graduate Students (iWSG). The iWSG program is organized by the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN) and IIT Kanpur, a premier research and teaching institution in India.

 

After Bull absorbed a full semester of courses in one week, she went on a five-day field trip to participate in a hands-on project related to energy. Visit the MSE Web site at http://depts.washington.edu/mse for an update on her field project.

 

Bull believes OPVs have the potential to lower the social, economic and political barriers to establishing clean, renewable energy in places like India. OPVs are cheaper to produce than traditional, silicon-based solar cells, but still far less efficient. Bull aims to change that.

 

Bull’s doctoral work under Christine Luscombe, an MSE assistant professor, is focused on designing more efficient, affordable organic solar cells.

 

"Solar energy has been plagued by its high cost," Bull said. "Legislation to help U.S. consumers afford solar panels has been very short-term and unreliable, so investment is difficult. If we can lower the financial barriers, there will be more incentive to expand solar projects."

 

Bull, who earned her bachelor's degree in materials science and engineering from The Ohio State University in 2004, heard about the iWSG program when an unexpected e-mail landed in her inbox in the fall.

 

"I gasped because the program is exactly what I've been dreaming of," Bull said. "It was also an opportunity to travel to a truly amazing country in the midst of global economic expansion. And I've never had a chance to install the very technology I work on."

 

Luscombe, who was invited to India to teach at iWSG, wrote a letter of recommendation that helped Bull get into the competitive international program.

 

"It isn't often that you meet a student who has the intelligence, vision and passion to bring her research out of the laboratory," Luscombe said.

photo, Tricia Bull

"Solar energy has been plagued by its high cost. If we can lower the financial barriers, there will be more incentive to expand solar projects."

-- Tricia Bull, MSE doctoral student