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Superpower Superheroes

November 2016

Superpower

From an underground lab on campus, a team of students and faculty mentors, including undergraduate Stephen Erickson, discovered how to harvest more energy from the sun.

Erickson and graduate student Trevor Smith, both in the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, coauthored a publication about their research on using nano-sized crystals to improve the efficiency of solar panels. Most solar cells harvest less than 29 percent of the available energy from sunlight, but the duo’s lab experiments suggest that solar cells based on nanocrystals of titanium, iron, cobalt, and manganese could achieve up to 38 percent solar-energy conversion.

Using his published research as a differentiator, Erickson has had an even higher conversion rate on his graduate school applications. To date he’s received offers from Harvard, Stanford, Caltech, Maryland, Colorado, and Berkeley. “When applying to top schools, everyone has good grades and test scores, so admissions committees weight research experience very heavily in their decision-making process,” he says.

Mentored research opportunities are a big reason BYU is ranked so highly as a PhD launch pad. According to the National Science Foundation, BYU ranks fifth in the country for the number of graduates who go on to receive doctorates.