My was instantly attracted to the way engineers use

My name, Serrae, means full of wonder. And ever since I can remember, I have wanted
to know how things worked. Even though my parents joke that the question I asked most
frequently growing up was, “Why?”, I did not consider a career in engineering until I attended
Texas A&M University’s Women Explore Engineering Camp. There, I was instantly attracted to
the way engineers use the answer to the question “Why?” to create structures that positively
impact people’s everyday lives. Today, my goal as a Ph.D. Mechanical Engineering and
Materials Science researcher is to make significant advancements in renewable energy device
fabrication and actively contribute to the communities around me. The realization of this goal
has 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 is
motivated by my experience in Dr. Selvamanickam’s semiconductor lab. In spring of 2015, I
won 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 materials
that would decrease the amount of light reflected away from the surface of the solar cells by
employing electron beam evaporation techniques. Ultimately, I discovered that an ARC
composed of 100 nm of magnesium fluoride and 50 nm of zinc sulfide decreases the amount of
incident light reflected from a GaAs photovoltaic from 35% to 3%. By employing my ARC
coating design, the device efficiency was enhanced by 25%. The high cost of GaAs photovoltaics
is a hindrance to their large-scale industrial manufacturing. However, my findings are a
significant contribution to making GaAs photovoltaics cheaper by increasing their efficiency.
I built upon my research experience at the University of Houston by completing a
Research 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 for
characterizing the impacts of products and processes. The results of this project showed that
using 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 and
Environmental Science Journal. I have honed my ability to communicate my research to
audiences by presenting at several national conferences. My abstract for this project was
accepted for poster presentations at the Black Engineer of the Year Awards Conference in
February 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 GEM
Consortium Conference in September 2017 and at the Emerging Researchers National
Conference in March 2017.
This academic year, I will complete an Honors Senior Thesis in which I will develop
Schottky barriers and Ohmic contacts for GaAs thin film photovoltaics. Light absorbing devices
require a junction in order to perform as a photovoltaic cell. However, defects at interfaces of
materials introduce states in the semiconductor bandgap which can negatively influence the
potential distribution at the junction. These are especially present in flexible photovoltaics. Part
of this research project will be devoted to ameliorating these effects. I have become adept at
various methods of thin film deposition in my previous project, but I will also learn how to
conduct photolithography and transfer length measurements for this project. Furthermore, I am
going 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 the
end 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 the
spring 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 my
understanding of production and subsea operations, as well as drilling and well control. This was
my first experience with upstream oil and gas, but I also expanded my knowledge of
petrochemicals through an internship with LyondellBasell during the summer of 2017. Although
these experiences were a direct application of my mechanical engineering coursework, I disliked
the rote and perfunctory nature of the jobs. Thus, my internships helped me realize I am most
challenged and animated when researching and tackling problems which will lead to
breakthroughs in emerging fields.
I am applying to the Yale University’s Mechanical and Materials Science Engineering
PhD program because of its cutting-edge research in renewable energy as well as interface
science. My research at the University of Houston has fostered my interest in photovoltaics, thin
films processing, and renewable energy. Particularly, I am interested in researching novel thin
films deposition methods which will decrease the amount of charge recombination at film
interfaces. At Yale, I would like to continue pursuing my interest in energy device fabrication. I
am interested Dr. Ahn’s research in growth of perovskites oxides, especially his recent project in
solar hydrogen production. My background and interests are also well suited for Dr. Cha’s
research in 2D nanosheets, in particular, her project in surface defects during chemical vapor
deposition growth.
My undergraduate career has been composed of diverse experiences, but the link between
them is energy, innovation, and resilience. Through my research experiences, I have developed
the skills and qualities necessary to conduct research at the graduate level, and to continue to
advance energy applications after my studies have ended. With my strong work ethic and
determination, I look forward making meaningful impacts in academia and in my community as
a renewable energy researcher and professor.