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ECE Graduate Student to Attend Global Young Scientist Symposium

Professor Steven Ringel and PhD student Daniel LepkowskiOnce a year, 300 college students are hand-picked to network amongst likeminded scholars from around the world at the Global Young Scientist Symposium (GYSS) in Singapore.

This January 14-17, electrical and computer engineering PhD student Daniel Lepkowski represents The Ohio State University at GYSS.

His ECE professor and mentor, Steven Ringel, said Lepkowski’s academic research is unparalleled in next generation solar efficiency.

“Daniel is one of the very finest graduate students I have ever seen,” he said. “Students picked to attend end up meeting with over a dozen Nobel laureates.”

During his time at Ohio State, Lepkowski was also the winner of a National Science Foundation graduate student fellowship, an Ohio State fellowship, and was awarded a Best Student Paper Award at the recent IEEE PVSC Conference.

Lepkowski said he has never been to Singapore before, so it’s an entirely new experience for him as a student.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.

The graduate student discovered his passion for engineering early on.

“It’s in my blood,” Lepkowski said. “Both of my parents were engineers at Texas Instruments, so from a young age my brothers and I were always encouraged to explore engineering.”

What he finds most fascinating in his research is how technology advances, not by leaps and bounds, but incremental and carefully examined steps. It’s this thought process he hopes to take away from his work at Ohio State.

“(ECE) requires this unique blend of knowledge, critical thinking and problem solving that isn't as prevalent in other professions. On top of that, the opportunity to shape the future of technology is really cool and appealing to me,” Lepkowski said.

His current research addresses the cost and efficiency of advanced solar power.

“Over 90% of solar cells used today are made of silicon, one of the most abundant and well-understood materials systems currently known,” Lepkowski said.

However, in terms of efficiency, silicon has its limitations.

“So, what is the next technology that’s going to take us beyond our current limitations into this realm of high efficiency photovoltaics?” he said.

Lepkowski proposes III-V multi-junction solar cells, which are crystals made of multiple materials all absorbing various colors of sunlight. The crystals are produced in a lab by stacking individual atoms in a process called epitaxy.

His research proposes combining the low cost of silicon with the high efficiency of these crystals by using silicon as the base. The crystals are then constructed on top to form the III-V multi-junction structure.

The next challenge is dealing with the spacing between the atoms of these lab crystals, which causes defects.

“That’s where my work comes in – to reduce the density of these defects and understand the effect of the defects on our cell performance,” he said. “It’s my belief that this technology is the future in low cost, efficiency solar cells.”

Watch a video of Lepkowski discussing his research during the Institute for Materials Research Three Minute Thesis Competition (3MT®).