Enormous Possibilities in a Nanoscopic World

Affordable solar electricity among graduate student's goals

Robert McCarthy hopes to play a role in solar-electricity production that revolutionizes the industry.

A 4.0 chemical engineering graduate and 2007 engineering valedictorian at Washington University in St. Louis, McCarthy came to Purdue in fall 2008 to pursue his PhD. He has joined the NanoG team of Hugh Hillhouse, associate professor of chemical engineering. The team is creating a prototype solar cell that will use Hillhouse's patented, self-assembling porous nanostructure film in the generation of solar electricity at a cost that's dramatically lower than that of today's solar cells.

"I'm working on electrodepositing a semiconductor into the pores of the nanostructure," McCarthy says of the nanostructure film that gave rise to the NanoG limited liability company now backed by private investors. ";So far it's going pretty well; we're past the early stages, and hopefully we'll actually start making some solar cells. But there's still a lot of work that needs to be done before we can start."

Studying on a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship and the Purdue Graduate School Ross Fellowship, McCarthy says he is open to all sorts of possibilities for his long-term future. ";I have always thought about being a professor and being in academics, but so far I'm not sure," he says. ";I enjoy helping students learn. I tutored students as an undergrad, and I enjoy when I can help a student who is struggling to understand something."