Hajim IGERT students 'connect' Ghana villagers with solar power

ofariIn many African nations, mobile phones "truly represent the first modern telecommunications infrastructure of any kind," notes Rebecca Berman, an Optics graduate student.

Indeed, people in isolated rural villages are "so reliant on this that men and children walk miles to reach the nearest town with electricity just to give their batteries a full charge. They pour their hard-earned money into cellphone air and charging time, leaving little behind in the community to build their own precious infrastructure."

Berman, and seven other UR graduate students in the IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship)  program -- six of them from the Hajim School -- visited Ghana this summer to address this problem from multiple angles.

For example, they showed students at the Takoradi Technical Institute how to build solar panels and cell phone chargers from scratch using silicon cells that had been donated by a U.S. solar cell manufacturer. They then visited an off-grid village to install the panels.

They also dipped into  their Optics Suitcase to give hands-on demonstrations about light and the solar spectrum.

You can read more about their visit in this report prepared by Berman.

The IGERT program, funded by the National Science Foundation, is designed to train future global leaders in science and engineering. The UR IGERT program, one of 20 chosen for funding in 2010, focuses on solar energy. The $3.2 million grant is for five years. Each year, a new "cohort" of six Ph.D. students in science and engineering are accepted for the program, which provides a $30,000-a-year stipend,

Of the 24 students selected so far, two-thirds are from the Hajim School. Matthew Yates, chair of Chemical Engineering, is the director; Vicki Heberling, administrative assistant for the Energy Research Initiative, is program coordinator.

A final "cohort" of six IGERT trainees will be selected next spring. For more information about the program, go to http://www.rochester.edu/igert/

The intention is for subsequent cohorts of IGERT students to revisit the same area of Ghana to hold similar workshops. "Through this work, we hope the students' panels and chargers can help meet the electricity demands in and around Takoradi, and that their knowledge can be directed to help address the continuing energy and infrastructure needs of the country for years to come," Berman writes.

(In photo above, Charles Ofari, a student at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, displays his completed row of soldered solar cells. Below, the IGERT team. At top, left to right, Amanda Preske, Joseph Choi, Lenore Kubie and Tyler DuBeshter. Kneeling left to right: Ryan Severins, Chanse Hungerford, Rebecca Berman, and Stephen Head.)