Solar energy

Over two decades after his show aired on PBS and took the ‘90s by storm, “Bill Nye the Science Guy” is still a hit among science enthusiasts, especially with the millennials who grew up watching him. On Oct. 5, Nye visited the Colorado School of Mines to speak to a sold-out crowd of students, alumni, faculty, and staff in Lockridge Arena. 
Bill Nye speaks to sold out crowd at Mines' 2016 President's Distinguished Lecture.
Bill Nye speaks to sold out crowd at Mines' 2016 President's Distinguished Lecture. Photo Credit: Agata Bogucka
“It was a childhood dream come true,” said sophomore Victoria Martinez-Vivot. Martinez-Vivot got the opportunity to meet Bill Nye prior to the talk, due to her role as MAC Co-Publicity Chair. 
Mines' President Paul Johnson, Bill Nye and Blaster the Burro in their matching bow-ties, all part of the Bill Nye official bow-tie collection.
Mines' President Paul Johnson, Bill Nye and Blaster the Burro in their matching bow-ties, all part of the Bill Nye official bow-tie collection. Photo Credit: Thomas Cooper

Nye’s talk— part of the President’s Distinguished Lecture series and kickoff to the 2016 Homecoming festivities— focused on the biggest problems facing our planet and what society, especially young people, can do to make the world a better place.

His catch phrase for the night was: “I want you guys to — dare I say it — change the world.”

Climate change sparked the conversation, but was only one element of Nye’s advocacy for “renewable and reliable energy for all”. In addition to encouraging the crowd to recognize renewable resources as the future of energy, he also dared Mines students to design the better battery and invent hydro-fusion engines for airplanes.

Fueled by his views on climate and the need to recognize the reality of our rapidly changing planet, Nye challenged the crowd of young engineers to solve the world's top three engineering grand challenges: providing clean water, renewable reliable energy and Internet access for all. He also expressed his support for space exploration.
“Space exploration brings out the best in us," said Nye. "There are two questions we all ask: Where did we come from? And are we alone in the universe?” Nye asserted that our desire to explore space illustrates the innate yearning within humankind to understand our origins, despite problems planet Earth may be faced with.
After a humorous introduction highlighting his father’s fascination with sundials and Nye’s own “MarsDials”, Nye quipped about how times have changed and reflected on his own scientific youth, including the moment he learned that there are in fact, “100 times more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on the Earth.” One of the most memorable moments of the night was Nye’s birthday call to Neil deGrasse Tyson — last year’s Distinguished Lecturer — where he invited the audience to join him in wishing Tyson a “happy orbit around the sun.” The Mines crowd could not have roared any louder.
One Mines student gave a heartfelt thank you to Bill Nye during the Q&A at the end of the lecture — “I just want to say that your plate tectonics episode is probably the reason I’m here studying geology right now, so thank you.” 
Nye is currently the CEO of The Planetary Society, continuing his legacy of teaching people of all ages the joys and wonders of science. He spent Earth Day 2015 speaking with President Barack Obama about climate change and science education. He also had a short debut on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” but had to drop out after sustaining an injury.
Agata Bogucka, Communications Manager, College of Earth Resource Sciences & Engineering | 303-384-2657 |
Leah Pinkus, Communications Assistant, Colorado School of Mines 303-273-3088

Chemical and Biological Engineering Associate Professor Sumit Agarwal has been awarded $615,000 over four years by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative to develop a scalable and more cost-effective method of manufacturing ultra-high-efficiency solar cells.

CBE Associate Professor Sumit Agarwal and postdoc Noemi LeickMost silicon-based solar cells in the market today have 16 to 18 percent efficiency, said Agarwal, while the maximum efficiency achieved in the lab is over 25 percent. “Our objective is to make it easier and cheaper to bridge this gap between the lab and industrial-scale devices,” he said.

Agarwal and his team, which includes postdoctoral researcher Noemi Leick and members of Silicon Photovoltaics project group at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory led by Paul Stradins, aim to fabricate solar cells with around 23 percent efficiency using their new method. The research will be performed both at Mines and NREL and will take advantage of NREL’s state-of-the-art deposition and new silicon device cleanroom facilities.

Mono-crystalline silicon (c-Si) solar cells provide the most promising pathway to electricity generation at costs that are comparable to conventional energy sources. Solar cells work by absorbing light and releasing separate positive and negative charges to create a current, and using c-Si minimizes the loss of energy from the recombination of these charges.

The efficiency of these cells is further improved by collecting both charges on the back side of the cell, as opposed to the traditional front-grid architecture, where metal contacts cover up some of the cell and prevent some light from being absorbed.

Diagram of solar cell with interdigitated back contacts.

Solar cells that use this design, however, only account for a small fraction of solar cells currently being manufactured, as they require the use of interdigitated back contacts, where the contact materials are arranged similarly to interlocked fingers. This requires a complex, repeated process where layers of material are added and sections of it are then removed.

Agarwal proposes to bypass these steps, using light and chemical vapor deposition to put down the material for the back contacts in the desired pattern. “Only the lit areas will get material growth,” Agarwal said. He believes this is a technique that can be translated into large-scale manufacturing.

In addition to the SunShot Initiative funding, the project will also receive a 10 percent match from Mines.


The grant is part of $107 million in new projects and planned funding announced by the Energy Department Sept. 14 to support clean energy innovation through solar technology. Under the SunShot Initiative, the department will fund 40 projects with a total of $42 million to improve PV performance, reliability, and manufacturability, and to enable greater market penetration for solar technologies.

In addition to the new projects, the department intends to make up to $65 million, subject to appropriation, in additional funding available for upcoming solar research and development projects to continue driving down the cost of solar energy and accelerating widespread national deployment. One of SunShot's goals is to drive down the levelized cost of utility-scale solar electricity to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour without incentives by 2020.

Mark Ramirez, Communications Manager, College of Applied Science & Engineering | 303-384-2622 |
Ashley Spurgeon, Editorial Assistant, Mines magazine | 303-273-3959 |

In a state with an energy economy as purple as its politics, it can be hard to decide where to stand.

The Payne Institute for Earth Resources at Colorado School of Mines teamed up with Inside Energy to host Spark! Unpacking the Politics of Energy in Colorado on Sept. 8 at Mines' Ben H. Parker Student Center.

The Payne Institute and Inside Energy explored everything Colorado’s energy portfolio stands to lose, gain or change in the 2016 election. Journalists from Inside Energy pressed a panel of experts on critical energy issues to help the public make their own decisions in November.

The panel included Ian Lange, PhD, Mineral and Energy Economics Program Director, Division of Economics and Business, Colorado School of Mines; Tracee Bentley, Executive Director, Colorado Petroleum Council; Meghan Nutting, Vice President of Policy and Government Affairs, Sunnova; and Lee Boughey, Senior Manager, Communications and Public Affairs, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.

“This panel coversed a wide variety of the Colorado energy landscape,” says Dr. Lange. “It was exciting to hear the views of my fellow panelists and share my thoughts on how Colorado could be impacted by the policies on the ballot this fall.”

Read a recap and view photos from the event.

Visit for more information.

About the Payne Institute at Colorado School of Mines
The mission of the Payne Institute for Earth Resources at Colorado School of Mines is to inform and shape sound public policy related to earth resources, energy and the environment. Its goal is to educate current and future leaders on the market, policy and technological challenges presented by energy, environmental and resource management issues, and provide a forum for national and global policy debate. For more information, visit

About Inside Energy
Inside Energy is a collaborative journalism initiative among public media with roots in Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota. It is funded by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Its mission, in collaboration with its partner stations, is to create a more informed public on energy issues. Inside Energy seeks to make energy issues a household topic and to inspire community conversations on the topic of energy. Learn more at

Kelly Beard, Communication Specialist, Division of Economics and Business, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3452 |
Kathleen Morton, Digital Media and Communications Manager, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3088 |

Two solar panels have been installed at the Geology Museum, providing power to the Critical Materials Institute exhibit inside and proving the importance of the materials that the exhibit highlights.

“The solar panels demonstrate how critical materials such as telluride are important to new advanced energy technologies," said Cynthia Howell, research faculty and energy education specialist for CMI and the Colorado Energy Research Institute.

The setup passed its official state inspection on Friday, July 29, and now powers a video demonstrating the importance of certain mined elements, as well as a phosphor viewing box.

The idea for the critical materials exhibit arose about a year and a half ago in discussions between Howell and museum Director Bruce Geller. Mandi Hutchinson, then a master's student in geology and now research faculty, led the assembly of the exhibit, which opened in February 2015 with the solar panels still waiting in the wings.

Troy Wanek, a solar energy expert and a member of the energy technology faculty at Red Rocks Community College, was recruited to install the panels. He also provided a behind-the-scenes presentation alongside fellow RRCC faculty member Tim Kjensrud, turning the project into an educational partnership.

Capital Planning and Construction and Facilities Management inspected the solar panel installation on July 22.

The Critical Materials Institute at Mines is a Department of Energy Research Innovation Hub. Its focus is developing technologies that assure the supply of materials critical to advanced energy technologies such as solar cells and wind turbines. Rare-earth elements have essential roles in high-efficiency motors and advanced lighting, but such metals and alloys are not manufactured in the United States, making innovations in the supply chain vital.

Mark Ramirez, Communications Manager, College of Applied Science & Engineering | 303-383-2622 |
Kathleen Morton, Digital Media and Communications Manager, Colorado School of Mines | 303-273-3088 |

The College of Engineering and Computational Sciences Senior Design Trade Fair is an opportunity for Colorado School of Mines students to showcase projects that they have been working on with a client during the past two semesters. Nine teams presented their work, while judges consisting of faculty and alumni graded them on their ability to define, analyze and address a design problem and to present their work through display and dialogue.

Trade Fair Results

  • 1st Place: CSM FlightLab
    • Client: Mounir Zok, Faculty Advisor: Joel Bach, Consultant: Sam Strickling
    • Team Members: Michael Blaise, Adam Casanova, Andrew Eberle, Ryan Elliott, Kelli Kravetz and Perry Taga
  • 2nd Place: JB Engineering
    • Client: Edge of Seven, Faculty Advisor: Judy Wang, Consultants: Joe Crocker and Juan Lucena
    • Team Members: Matthew Craighead, Steven Johnson, Ali Khavari, Brian Klatt and Jasmine Solis
  • 3rd Place: AutoBots
    • Client: Jered Dean, Faculty Advisor: Judy Wang, Consultant: Jenifer Blacklock
    • Team Members: Arveen Amiri, Dorian Illing, Adriana Johnson, Keeranat Kolatat and Jennifer McClellan
  • 4th Place: SolTrak
    • Client: iDE, Faculty Advisor: Judy Wang, Consultant: David Frossard
    • Team Members: Miranda Barron, Lincoln Engelhard, Oluwaseun Ogunmodede, Brenda, Ramirez Rubio, Eric Rosing and Kevin Wagner

Broader Impacts Essay Results

  • 1st Place: Jace Warren for "The World Cup, It's Not Rocket Science"
  • 2nd Place: Aaron Heldmyer for "The Modern Renaissance Men and Women"
  • 3rd Place: Jennifer McClellan for "Engineering Modern Vehicles for First Responders"

Winning teams will receive plaques at the post-graduation banquet in December.

You be the judge. Listen to two teams present their projects at the Senior Design Trade Fair.

Senior Design Project: SolTrak

Senior Design Project: CSM Outreach Engineering

View more information about the Senior Design Program.



Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3088 /
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations, Colorado School of Mines / 303-273-3541 /

To kick off Alumni Weekend, the College of Engineering and Computational Science (CECS) hosted the Senior Design Trade Fair on April 24 in Lockridge Arena. Seventy alumni judges evaluated 42 design teams as they presented their projects. Teams were scored on their project content, design content, poster and display, dialogue and overall impression. Five teams were selected as overall trade fair winners.

“I'm extremely proud of the teams that presented at Trade Fair and all of the work that went in to their final projects,” said Jered Dean, mechanical engineering professor. “While the competition was close, the CSM FourCross team stood out because of the way that they balanced the needs of all the stakeholders in the design to arrive at a simple, practical solution.”

Overall Trade Fair Winners

1st Place (CSM FourCross – Team 11)

  • Emily Hixon
  • Abigail Krycho
  • Clayton Boatwright
  • Jacqueline Stabell
  • Hannah Margheim
  • William Pietra
  • Brian Stack

2nd Place (Wingin' It - Team 35)

  • Gabriel Alvarado
  • Andrew Boissiere
  • Ashley Hertzler
  • Mathew Jirele
  • Kit Lewis
  • James Wilkerson
  • Matthew Brady
  • Richard Nguyen

3rd Place (Zephyrus - Team 42)

  • Cabe Bonner
  • Kelsey Wokasch
  • Alex Dell
  • Jyotsana Gandhi
  • Katherine Rooney
  • Aaron Troyer
  • Jeremy Webb
  • Zachary Weber
  • Kevin Tan

4th Place (OmniPumps - Team 31)

  • Eric Chapa
  • Nicole Davis
  • Aaron Faulkner
  • Adam Mowery
  • Logan Ramseier

Kid's Choice (Colorado AdvantEdge - Team 6)

  • Erika Blair
  • Katherine Poffenbarger
  • Kendrick Stalnaker
  • Justin Loeffler
  • Michaela Hammer
  • Julia Morin
  • Kevin Tornes

Essay Contest Winners

  • 1st Place: "Fun Theory" by Dustin Burner
  • 2nd Place: "How a Camera Mount Revolutionized Video and Internet Content" by Benjamin Paley
  • 3rd Place: "Mile Per Gallon Readouts: Changing Driving Behavior Through Feedback" by Kevyn Young

Each year senior students in the civil, electrical, environmental, and mechanical engineering programs in the CECS take a two-semester course sequence in engineering design targeted at enhancing their problem-solving skills. Corporations, government agencies and other professional organizations, as well as individual clients, provide projects for the student teams of five to eight students to work on. Students spend the academic year developing solutions for the projects to which they have been assigned, using tools they have learned throughout their careers at Mines.

View a full list of projects. Check out Mines Radio, The Blastercast, to listen to interviews with the team.



Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 /
Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 /

Researchers at Colorado School of Mines are discovering ways to make longer lasting lithium batteries and new ceramics for armors, windows and fuel cells.

“The possibility for opening up new applications in energy are huge,” Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Associate Professor Brian Gorman said.

Gorman and his team have recently proven that, for the first time, the full periodic table can be examined in ceramics by counting atoms one at a time. They are using new equipment to look at an atom’s arrangement and predict the properties of the material.

“We can start to determine electrical resistivity, ionic conductivity, how well it conducts oxygen or hydrogen and start to determine how strong it is,” Gorman said.

Their research isn’t done on a computer, but rather on real materials using a combined electron microscope and atom probe instrument. The team is able to study why the strongest ceramics break and why certain solar cells produce more electrical current.

Last fall, Gorman received a grant from the National Science Foundation to build the instrument. While there are eight atom probe instruments being used at U.S. universities, Mines is developing the world’s first atom probe instrument with an electron microscope attached. This equipment allows his team to heat and cool specimens at a rate of 10 trillion degrees per second, fast enough to “freeze” individual atoms as they move in a solid.

Gorman’s collaborators at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) develop high efficiency, low cost solar cells. In a new program funded by the Department of Energy, Gorman and his NREL collaborators are working to understand why current cannot escape the solar cell efficiently. Understanding these materials at the atomic scale will allow companies to produce solar cells with much higher efficiencies.

The materials in this device are Cadmium Telluride. 

“The highest efficiency devices that have been made so far are around 18 percent, meaning only 18 percent of the sunlight that hits the solar panel generates electrical current,” Gorman said. “Our new program allows us to understand why out of place atoms reduce this efficiency. Ultimately, we are aiming to improve efficiency to 24 percent in three years.”

Graduate student Adam Stokes works on the research team with Gorman. He analyzes grain boundaries in a different solar absorber material, also in relation to how efficient solar cells can be made. The equipment allows Stokes to narrow down at an atomic level what exists in the material.

“The atom probe is very unique in that the resolution spatially is amazing, as well as the chemical sensitivity,” Stokes said. “You can analyze materials at a really fundamental level that you can’t do anywhere else.”



Kathleen Morton, Communications Coordinator / 303-273-3088 /

Karen Gilbert, Director of Public Relations / 303-273-3541 /

As it’s often said, the real world can be the best classroom. That’s precisely the idea behind an assignment students in Teaching Professor Chuck Stone’s ENGY 320 Renewable Energy course received: to individually design their own field trips to companies or organizations involved in renewable energy or sustainability and come back with a report.

“It was wide open,” said Stone as students showed off their posters and reports during the Forum on Renewable Energy at Colorado School of Mines, Dec. 6. “If I had told them what to do we wouldn’t have this depth and breadth of projects here. I was incredibly impressed with the variety and creativity.”

The field trips took students from solar companies to train stations and even elementary schools.

Senior Katherine Bony contacted engineers at Wheat Ridge based Major Geothermal learning how engineers at the company access heat energy from below the earth’s surface.

“I learned all about the different types of geothermal [systems]. I originally thought there was only vertical, but there’s horizontal, there are slinky loops. It all depends on the thermal conductivity of the ground,” said Bony.

Bony’s experience also led to an internship opportunity with the company.

Senior Kristen Heiden reported on her experience working with civil engineers working on the LEED certification for the Union Station redevelopment project in Denver.

“What I think is really neat is Union Station has a big waste management system,” said Heiden. “They use waste material to help in the construction, but they also recycle a lot of it.”

Heiden also learned how engineers are making the building greener by installing skylights, improving indoor air quality with large fans and planting gardens outside the station.

“It’s a great look at what we can look forward to as engineers when we’re actually designing things,” said Heiden.

Other projects showcased included a bike that measures electrical energy produced from pedaling. The project could be taken to middle and elementary schools as an interactive lesson about energy.

Stone’s ENGY 320 Renewable Energy class is part of the energy minor at Colorado School of Mines. For more information, click here.

Take a look at a solar panel on a sunny Colorado day and, if you’re like most people, you won’t see much more than a blinding glare. Mark Lusk sees wasted opportunity.

“I see that glare and feel how hot the panels on my roof get and say, ‘What a waste! We’re losing energy!’” says Lusk, a Mines physics professor and solar energy researcher, who admits to checking out his panels and their energy output more than most. On a clear day, he explains, only a fraction of the photons hitting the photovoltaic cells on his roof are converted into electricity—the rest bounce off as light or are lost as heat. On a cloudy day, or as dusk approaches, the long-wavelength, low-energy particles of light are scarcely enough to produce any juice at all. On average, just 20 percent of the sun’s rays actually get converted to energy in a contemporary solar cell.

“In terms of efficiency, there is a lot of room for improvement up there,” he says.

Fueled by a six-year, $12 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Lusk and his colleagues at the Renewable Energy Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (REMRSEC) have spent the last four years working to improve that efficiency via a complex merging of nanotechnology, quantum physics and computational wizardry known as “exciton engineering.”

The nascent and controversial field hinges on the manipulation of “excitons”—the combination of an excited electron and the hole from which it is dislodged by an incoming photon. In conventional photovoltaic cells, the exchange is generally one-for-one; upon impact, a photon creates an exciton, which sends a highly energized electron racing into an electrical circuit.

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Learn more about Mines research in renewable energy here.


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