My name, Serrae, means full of wonder. And ever since I can remember, I have wantedto know how things worked. Even though my parents joke that the question I asked mostfrequently growing up was, “Why?”, I did not consider a career in engineering until I attendedTexas A&M University’s Women Explore Engineering Camp. There, I was instantly attracted tothe way engineers use the answer to the question “Why?” to create structures that positivelyimpact people’s everyday lives. Today, my goal as a Ph.
D. Mechanical Engineering andMaterials Science researcher is to make significant advancements in renewable energy devicefabrication and actively contribute to the communities around me. The realization of this goalhas been set in motion by my involvement in undergraduate research and industry internships.My decision to pursue a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science ismotivated by my experience in Dr. Selvamanickam’s semiconductor lab. In spring of 2015, Iwon the Houston Scholars research stipend from the University of Houston’s Provost’s Office.
As an undergraduate research fellow, I designed and grew multilayer antireflection coatings(ARC) for thin film gallium arsenide (GaAs) photovoltaics. I researched and deposited materialsthat would decrease the amount of light reflected away from the surface of the solar cells byemploying electron beam evaporation techniques. Ultimately, I discovered that an ARCcomposed of 100 nm of magnesium fluoride and 50 nm of zinc sulfide decreases the amount ofincident light reflected from a GaAs photovoltaic from 35% to 3%. By employing my ARCcoating design, the device efficiency was enhanced by 25%. The high cost of GaAs photovoltaicsis a hindrance to their large-scale industrial manufacturing.
However, my findings are asignificant contribution to making GaAs photovoltaics cheaper by increasing their efficiency.I built upon my research experience at the University of Houston by completing aResearch Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at Arizona State University in summer 2016.There, I developed an efficient process for recycling cadmium tellurium thin film solar panels.
Through this project, I learned how to conduct Life Cycle Analysis, which is a useful tool forcharacterizing the impacts of products and processes. The results of this project showed thatusing a furnace is an energetically conservative delamination method for recycling processes.These findings are included in a paper, which is currently in review for the Energy andEnvironmental Science Journal. I have honed my ability to communicate my research toaudiences by presenting at several national conferences. My abstract for this project wasaccepted for poster presentations at the Black Engineer of the Year Awards Conference inFebruary of 2017 and a student symposium in Flagstaff, Arizona in September 2016.Furthermore, I won a first place award for my poster presentation at the National GEMConsortium Conference in September 2017 and at the Emerging Researchers NationalConference in March 2017.
This academic year, I will complete an Honors Senior Thesis in which I will developSchottky barriers and Ohmic contacts for GaAs thin film photovoltaics. Light absorbing devicesrequire a junction in order to perform as a photovoltaic cell. However, defects at interfaces ofmaterials introduce states in the semiconductor bandgap which can negatively influence thepotential distribution at the junction. These are especially present in flexible photovoltaics. Partof this research project will be devoted to ameliorating these effects. I have become adept atvarious methods of thin film deposition in my previous project, but I will also learn how toconduct photolithography and transfer length measurements for this project.
Furthermore, I amgoing to supplement my experimental research by mastering softwares such as Advanced Multi Physics Simulation (AMPS) and PC1D to model the device designs before fabrication. By theend of the project I will have developed and tested six different devices. In addition to my research, I have also gained useful experience in industry. During thespring of 2017, I completed training at Shell’s Robert, LA Training and Conference Center.Throughout the program, I participated in hands-on learning activities to broaden myunderstanding of production and subsea operations, as well as drilling and well control.
This wasmy first experience with upstream oil and gas, but I also expanded my knowledge ofpetrochemicals through an internship with LyondellBasell during the summer of 2017. Althoughthese experiences were a direct application of my mechanical engineering coursework, I dislikedthe rote and perfunctory nature of the jobs. Thus, my internships helped me realize I am mostchallenged and animated when researching and tackling problems which will lead tobreakthroughs in emerging fields.I am applying to the Yale University’s Mechanical and Materials Science EngineeringPhD program because of its cutting-edge research in renewable energy as well as interfacescience.
My research at the University of Houston has fostered my interest in photovoltaics, thinfilms processing, and renewable energy. Particularly, I am interested in researching novel thinfilms deposition methods which will decrease the amount of charge recombination at filminterfaces. At Yale, I would like to continue pursuing my interest in energy device fabrication. Iam interested Dr. Ahn’s research in growth of perovskites oxides, especially his recent project insolar hydrogen production. My background and interests are also well suited for Dr. Cha’sresearch in 2D nanosheets, in particular, her project in surface defects during chemical vapordeposition growth. My undergraduate career has been composed of diverse experiences, but the link betweenthem is energy, innovation, and resilience.
Through my research experiences, I have developedthe skills and qualities necessary to conduct research at the graduate level, and to continue toadvance energy applications after my studies have ended. With my strong work ethic anddetermination, I look forward making meaningful impacts in academia and in my community asa renewable energy researcher and professor.