Today was the first day of the school and we covered a lot of ground.
First, Professor Peter Green from UMich gave a broad overview of the current energy outlook worldwide. Although fossil fuels still dominate the scene, renewables are on the rise and Prof. Green seemed very optimistic about the future. With recent failures of U.S. renewable energy companies such as A123 Systems and Konarka Technologies, I am a little more worried about the future. But maybe this just underscores the need for improved materials for clean energy technology, which is what this school is all about. Other issues that were raised include the role of energy efficiency, the need to couple energy production from intermittent sources (e.g. solar and wind) to energy storage, and the extent to which implementing renewables in Africa can help alleviate poverty.
In addition to several coffee breaks and a lunch to allow for participants to meet and continue the discussions, today we experienced a whirlwind set of lectures about different classes of materials and techniques in materials science. We heard from Prof. Sossina Haile (Caltech) on ionics, Prof. Jeff Snyder (Caltech) on semiconductors, Prof. Green on polymers, and Prof. Simon Billinge (Columbia) on characterization techniques.
It has been so exciting to meet different students from the U.S. and Africa and learn about their background and interests. Even though we are on opposite sides of the world, we are connected by a passion to make advances in materials science that will help solve the energy problem. Despite barriers in language and culture, we are learning a lot about each other and rapidly becoming colleagues and friends.