This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

September 14, 2011

Questions for a Nanoscientist

Seth Darling is a scientist at DOE's Argonne National Laboratory's Center for Nanoscale Materials. He builds new materials for solar energy, with the aim of creating cheaper and more efficient solar cells.

Question: How did you first get interested in science?

Seth Darling: I can't remember back that far. I've been interested in science as long as I can remember. Yeah, all the way back to elementary school—I was certain I was going to be a scientist at that point. Chemistry was the plan for many years; all the way up even into college I was planning to do chemistry. And, now I do something that uses chemistry but is really chemistry and physics and materials science and nanoscience and all kinds of stuff all rolled up together.

Q: What do you like about that?

SD: It's fun because you get to work with a very diverse group of scientists. Postdocs who work with me have degrees in electrical engineering and chemistry and material science. So it's fun because you can really look at the interfaces between these different disciplines, which is where most of the interesting stuff is going on. It's also very challenging because there's just no way you can be an expert on all of those simultaneously, and so you always feel a little bit like you're at the edge of your understanding. Which is challenging, but it's also fun—you get to learn lots of new stuff all the time.

Q: What projects are you working on now?

SD: Most of what I'm working on now revolves around solar energy—photovoltaics, specifically. What we're interested in are organic photovoltaics and photovoltaics that involve organic materials that might also involve inorganic materials—hybrids. We're interested in those because they're significantly lower-cost than current solar energy technologies, but right now the efficiencies are not high enough to be truly commercially relevant. So we're doing the basic science to understand where the efficiency losses are, and how can they be improved. These are basic science questions, but are also very much geared towards the applied side—ultimately pushing commercial industry towards organic photovoltaics. That's where most of our work lies.

To read the rest of the interview, see the Energy Blog post.