Student’s Materials Research Leads to Goldwater Scholarship

Emma Kaeli
04/06/15 – BOSTON, MA. – Emma Kaeli, E’18, who won the Goldwater Scholarship, posed for a portrait outside the Curry Student Center at Northeastern University on April 6, 2015. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

A self-​​described “ever learner,” second-​​year chem­ical engi­neering major Emma Kaeli has cul­ti­vated her pas­sion for research while at North­eastern, which has helped her realize her dream of improving mate­rials used in alter­na­tive technologies.

I find it so fas­ci­nating that you can change some­thing at the mol­e­c­ular level and it changes that something’s entire func­tion­ality,” said Kaeli, E’18. “It’s not about mechanics or physics, it’s about the chemistry.”

Kaeli’s most recent research, which focused on making solar panels more effi­cient, led to her being named a 2015–16 Gold­water Schol­ar­ship recip­ient. “It was a com­plete sur­prise,” Kaeli said. “I knew I had a devel­oped research plan, but I had seen so many great plans from other appli­cants that I was like, ‘There is no way they’ll pick me.’”

The Barry Gold­water Schol­ar­ship is a highly com­pet­i­tive, merit-​​based award for out­standing col­lege sopho­mores and juniors in math­e­matics, the nat­ural sci­ences, and engi­neering who are inter­ested in pur­suing research careers. Of 1,206 can­di­dates nation­wide, Kaeli was one of 260 stu­dents selected to receive the scholarship.

She was one of four North­eastern Uni­ver­sity stu­dents to apply for the Gold­water Schol­ar­ship. The other three—Jacob Barlow, E’17, Nicholas DePorzio, S’16, and Ben­jamin Moran, S’18—each earned hon­or­able men­tion, recog­ni­tion bestowed upon just 150 students.

Thanks to a North­eastern Uni­ver­sity Scholars Inde­pen­dent Research Fel­low­ship, last fall Kaeli worked in the Inter­face Engi­neering Lab­o­ra­tory run by asso­ciate pro­fessor Katherine Ziemer,  in the Depart­ment of Chem­ical Engi­neering. Kaeli’s work focused on how to create a mate­rial that could take the heat solar panels gen­erate and turn that heat into electricity.

Solar panels are extremely inef­fi­cient espe­cially at high tem­per­a­tures because they over­heat,” Kaeli explained. “My goal is to make solar panels more afford­able, more effi­cient, and a more viable option for people who want to use alter­na­tive sources of energy.”

The pri­mary focus of her work in Ziemer’s lab was to grow mate­rials for inte­gra­tion onto solar panels—and she is plan­ning to use her schol­ar­ship money to fur­ther fund this project this fall.

Kaeli noted that this mate­rial would ide­ally be applied to other instru­ments that can lose energy through heat, such as a car engine. “The fact of the matter is we lose so much energy through heat,” Kaeli said. “If I were able to make some­thing that could rede­liver energy to a cir­cuit in some other way or make some­thing self gen­er­ating, that would be perfect.”

Kaeli is cur­rently on co-​​op at the Inno­va­tion Center of the Rogers Cor­po­ra­tion, a mate­rials man­u­fac­turer. There, she works with a wide berth of mate­rials and manip­u­lates them in every way imaginable.

I know I really like research, which I’ve been doing since high school,” Kaeli said. “So I wanted to try to find another aspect of research and the Rogers Cor­po­ra­tion gives me that. I feel like that is the point of co-​​op, to figure out what you want to do.”

Originally Published at News@Northeastern by Joe O'Connell Read More