July Update-Lets shine some light on the situation

Research can occasionally be frustrating. Sometimes it seems like every time you take two steps forward, you take another one back. Or occasionally eight.
At the beginning of July, my plan was to go ahead and start the assembly of my full Solar Cell. To do that, I first had to characterize each of the layers I was depositing. This should have been easy. But alas, nothing ever is. I spent about two weeks trying to deposit a homogeneous first layer, to no avail. There is something wrong with our precursor, and no matter what I try (and trust me, I have tried a lot) I couldn’t get this layer to spin smoothly. So that left me with two options: try a different precursor, or try to assemble a cell without that first layer to see what happened. I decided to proceed with assembling a cell with no first layer. I spent another two weeks developing a reliable method to measure the other layers (I finally figured out how to break, and mount a corner of the slide in the PHENOM on a nearly vertical mount–it was a glorious moment). Then I finally assembled a full cell.
It didn’t work.
But beyond that, I realized my solar simulator was completely unreliable. So there are a series of questions I am now facing: Is the problem with the cell or the simulator? Can I re-calibrate and build a better simulator with the tools available to me in the lab before summer ends to re-test my cells? Should I try and build another cell without that first layer and just tweak the ratio of materials in the active layer to see if I can get it to work? Or should I try maybe assembling one with an unreliable first layer just to see what happens? Or should we go ahead and just buy a new precursor? So many things to try; so little time.


  1. Hello! I can relate greatly to your experience! The vast majority of my research over the summer was spent troubleshooting nanospray as a source to our mass spectrometer, but by the end, we ended up switching back to our original source, leaving me with very little time to collect data before the summer was through. I’m glad you got to assemble a full cell, even though it was unreliable. Working towards improving solar cells for inexpensive, more widespread use is very important as we continue to hear about the consequences of our current energy production techniques. With every failure you learn something new to broaden your own skill set and take your project further. I’m interested in hearing about what you tried next and how you’ll be tackling your setbacks with the fall semester! Keep on keepin’ on!

  2. jacampbell says:

    Hey, Jesse!
    Sorry to hear things aren’t going quite as smoothly as you predicted. I have absolutely no background knowledge of any of this, but could some of the methods you’re creating to overcome the obstacles be used by other people? It sounds like your new cell assembly method could help other projects, too.

    Also, could you explain what a precursor is? I couldn’t find any mention of it in your other blog posts (though maybe I didn’t look closely enough).

    Hope things are a little less frustrating now,

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