Alpen Steel | Renewable Energy

~ Three Dimensional Nanotube Solar Cell

Seventh-grader shines with solar cell research
(news photo)

William Yuan, 12, will be recognized Sept. 24 for his invention of a highly-efficient, three-dimensional nanotube solar cell for visible and ultraviolet light.


William Yuan’s bright idea to create a new, more efficient solar cell earned him top honors as Oregon’s only 2008 Davidson Fellow.

As part of the honor, the 12-year-old Bethany boy will be flown to Washington, D.C., for a reception Sept. 24 at the Library of Congress where he will receive his award and a $25,000 scholarship from the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.

“William’s work was evaluated by university professors and environmental scientists,” said Tacie Moessner, Davidson Fellows program manager in a call from Reno, Nev. “They look for the project’s potential to benefit society and make sure it is socially relevant. Generally, the projects need to be at the graduate level.”

Yuan worked on his project for the past two years with the encouragement of his science teacher Susan Duncan; support of his parents Gang Yuan and Zhiming Mei; and counsel of professional mentors Professor Chunfei Li of Portland State University’s Center for Nanofabrication and Electron Microscopy, Fred Li of Applied Materials Inc. and Professor Shaofan Li of the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of California – Berkeley.

“He is our youngest fellow in science that we’ve ever had,” Moessner said. “He is really spectacular.

“His project will really make a difference in advancing the technology of solar cells. You would never know he’s 12 looking at the quality of his work.”

Young talent

William Yuan is a seventh-grader in Meadow Park Middle School’s Summa options program.

He is an active member of the school’s Math Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) Club, First Lego League team and participant in the Science Bowl and MathCounts programs. He is also a two-time, second-place chess champion for the state.

Recognizing his interest in science, math and engineering, Yuan’s science teacher encouraged him to tackle a challenging engineering project for the Northwest Science Expo after introducing him to nanotechnology and renewable energy research.

“We learned about some great energy and environmental issues,” Yuan said. “To try to help, I researched the application of nanotechnology and renewable energy.

“I felt they would best complement my background knowledge and experience. After extensive research and community outreach, I wanted to work on a project to find a solution for some of the problems of the world.”

Yuan decided to focus his project on finding the most efficient way to harness the sun’s energy.

“I felt solar energy had large potential but it was underused,” he explained. “Fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas are only finite and are slated to run out by 2050.

“We need to make solar energy more cost effective and efficient.”

With that thought in mind, Yuan got to work.

“Current solar cells are flat and can only absorb visible light,” he said. “I came up with an innovative solar cell that absorbs both visible and UV light. My project focused on finding the optimum solar cell to further increase the light absorption and efficiency and design a nanotube for light-electricity conversion efficiency.”

Jaime Valdez / The Beaverton Valley Times

By Christina Lent
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