BHSU student researches solar energy in New York

Black Hills State University physical science and chemistry major Madison Jilek returned to Spearfish recently having completed the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships Program (SULI) through the U.S. Department of Energy. Madison's summer research focused on making solar energy more efficient.

Black Hills State University student Madison Jilek recently completed an internship with the U.S. Department of Energy focused on solar energy.

Maddy, a physical science and chemistry major from Spearfish, spent 10 weeks this summer at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, N.Y. This is the tenth lab Maddy has either visited or worked at throughout the world.

"I've been involved in a lot of different research at BHSU and Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead. It was great to be in this new environment to see how my training had prepared me," says Maddy. "I was able to go in and hit the ground running versus spending weeks learning lab vocab and theory."

When Maddy applied to the national Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships Program (SULI) Program last December, she ranked the top three host labs she wanted to work at. Brookhaven National Laboratory was her first choice. Her first time living away from home, Maddy received a stipend, travel allowance, and housing through the SULI Program.

Maddy's research during the internship focused on better understanding the mechanics behind charge recombination - or how solar energy devices could be made more efficient.

"I worked on organic photovoltaics (OPVs) which are polymer or plastic-based solar energy cells. In theory they'd be great for solar energy because they can be thin and flexible. You can roll up OPVs or put them on the back of your cell phone and they wouldn't add much extra bulk," says Maddy.

Under the direction of Brookhaven physicist Dr. Matthew Bird, Maddy worked in Brookhaven's Laser Electron Accelerator Facility (LEAF). The accelerator's electron beam energetically excites samples, in some ways imitating the effect of the Sun's energy.

Maddy said only one research group could use the accelerator at a time, and the beamline would be set up specifically for their intended experiment.

Leading up to their days in LEAF, Maddy said her team would prepare samples in order to obtain as much data as possible. Maddy wrote a computer program to mimic production and consumption of the species in their sample using differential equations.

On the weekends, Maddy was able to experience the sights of New York City where she saw the hit musical Hamilton and went skydiving.

"Skydiving from the air I could see Brookhaven National Lab where I was working and the coast of Long Island," said Maddy.

This semester Maddy is back at BHSU where she continues to work on her capstone project for the University Honors Program. Her project is based on her work in the laser spectroscopy lab at BHSU with Dr. Brianna Mount, assistant professor of physics.

Maddy is also applying to Ph.D. programs with plans to continue to research renewable energy in an interdisciplinary doctorate program.

"BHSU has provided me with ample opportunities to grow into a well-rounded student and researcher. The faculty here have taken a real interest in my ambitions, investing their time in me as they do many of their students," said Maddy.