Four students in the Integrated Concentration in Science (iCons) program have been awarded first place in the UMass Amherst Undergraduate Sustainability Research Award 2017 for their research paper “What is it Going to Take to Make Solar Panels Cool?”
The honor, which carries a $1,000 prize from the Friends of the UMass Amherst Libraries, is for their spring 2016 paper on using water to cool solar panels, thereby making them more efficient.
The integrated team of students–Cameron Lane, physics; Cameron Smith-Freedman, biology; Matthew “Donnie” Rollings, chemistry; and Luke Fateiger, computer science–will be seniors in the fall and are in the renewable energy track of the iCons program. Their 2016 research proposal was part of the iCons 2 course: integrated scientific communication.
Joined by food science major Matthew Yee for iCons 3, they continued their work in the lab this spring, developing a model system and gathering data.
For iCons 4, they have in mind a working prototype that can save energy on campus.
Lane said, “Implementation on UMass campus in some form is one of our next goals for this project. As we will all be seniors next year we would love to see it working to some effect before we leave.”
The team will also investigate filing a patent through UMass technology transfer office, he said.
But first, they must develop a complete design and parts list, which will require more data collection and analysis using the model system.
“We have only tested our system in idealized lab environments,” Lane said. “We would like to try it outside in real weather situations to get a better idea of what will be possible. Through this experimentation we have a goal in mind of finding a way to increase the panel efficiency by at least 10 percent in a realistic outdoor environment. If we can find this to be possible we can prove definitively that our system can have an immense impact on the sustainability of campus.”
The project exemplifies one goal of iCons: to allow students the freedom to continue building upon an idea throughout their four years in the program.
Rollings said, “iCons 2 Energy was a great intro to this project because (aside from providing the initial impetus) it forced us to do a lot of literature research that we might otherwise have skipped. … From a scientific and sustainability standpoint, there’s clear evidence that systems like this can provide a great benefit through widespread implementation. From a practical standpoint, there are still many hurdles to overcome before this is a system that people will want to install on their solar structures.”