Physics Major Lays Foundation For 'Green' Career

Marie Galante, '11, a physics major at Albion College, laid the foundation for a career in a green industry while completing a summer internship at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colo.

Marie Galante, far right, poses with fellow interns from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.Marie Galante, far right, poses with fellow interns from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.A native of Canton, Mich., Galante came to Albion with an interest in chemical engineering. She learned about NREL while surfing the Web for internship possibilities and then spent the course of the internship running experiments making transparent conducting oxides out of indium zinc oxide to increase solar energy production.

"I was making the top layer of a solar cell," Galante said. "The top layer needs to be transparent to let the light in and conductive so the electricity can flow. That's what I was trying to maximize over the summer - how light can come into the solar cell and power it."

Galante explained indium is a better material to use as a solar cell coating because of its resistance to water. She created these thin films of a solar cell by a process called magnetron sputtering where argon ions collide with indium zinc oxide in a vacuum chamber. She would change the ratio of direct current and radio frequency used to power the reaction in order to find a ratio that maximizes the conductivity and transparency of the film.

"Usually direct current is used in industry to make these thin films for solar cells, but what I was doing was mixing the direct current with radio frequency," Galante said. "It was a new process. No one had explored what happens when you mix them."

Radio frequency, Galante reports, keeps positive charges from building on the indium zinc oxide, which limits the attraction of positive argon ions. The indium zinc oxide won't be deposited to form the thin film if argon ions don't collide with the indium zinc oxide.

"It was a great opportunity," she added. "I was there with students from MIT, Brown, and Yale."

She has already been invited back to NREL to work on another project this summer.

"It was cool to be involved in groundbreaking research," Galante said. 

Back on the Albion campus, Galante is hoping to continue the work she started at NREL while working in the lab with Charles Moreau, associate professor of physics. Studying under the dual-degree program at Albion, Galante will complete her science and mathematics courses in the liberal arts setting this spring before moving on to fulfill the requirements for her engineering degree at the University of Michigan. After the successful completion of the required number of units at the U-M, Galante will be granted a bachelor of arts degree from Albion, and she will receive the bachelor of science degree from U-M.

Amazed by the natural beauty in Colorado, Galante also marveled at the differences in the sustainability efforts of the residents of the Rocky Mountain state.

"Everyone there has a different state of mind," Galante said. "Everyone recycles. It is standard for everyone to take the bus or ride bikes everywhere. It is a completely different atmosphere there compared to Michigan."