Life Lessons from a Solar Cell

Whoa, Nella! 

That was a fantastic activity we had on dye sensitized solar cells at the end of the first week. Who would have guessed that we would be able to make a functioning solar cell in just one hour? Well, if you guessed that about our group, you would actually be completely wrong. Pretty much everything that we touched ended up not working. First of all, Bek deserted us from the very beginning—sad :(. Next, we pressed the paraffin film way too hard onto the photoactive area and left it in the sun, which meant that it melted onto the dye and became impossible to remove. After mutilating about half the photoactive area, we just gave up and left the paraffin covering the dye. At least some sunlight would still be able to penetrate. After that, we poured the electrolyte on the slide and then somehow managed to put the counter electrode on the wrong way. A solar cell doesn’t do much good when all the sunlight is reflected. Luckily, we were able to fix that without too much difficulty, but then we were faced with the nearly impossible task of wiring up a simple series circuit. That blasted potentiometer had three different leads, there were two multimeters that we were somehow supposed to use, and enough wire for the whole city of Addis Ababa, and we had to figure out how to get everything connected. Eventually, we succeeded. We were very proud of ourselves. 

But this isn’t the end of the story. By now, we were the last group still working on this—everyone else had finished long ago. We quickly took about 10 data points and felt like we finally had everything we needed to complete the project, until we realized that the multimeter had been broken all along. The second digit could be interpreted as either 0, 7, 8, or 9—and we only considered zero until the very end. Whoops. But the next groups were already lined up to start working on their solar cells, so we had no choice but to leave. Ben decided to leave altogether—he disappeared and didn’t come back until later that night. So Bek deserted us from the beginning, but Ben deserted us at the end, after contributing to this epic failure. Luckily, we had Celline, Nancy, and Dereje to save the day. They realized that our data was mostly useless, so we sneakily borrowed some beautiful data taken by another group, plotted a flawless I-V curve, and earned high praise from Professor Tom Mallouk. Hurray us!

Moral of the story: Even when everything is going wrong, you can still have fun and learn a lot by collaborating with your fellow scientists. Life lesson learned!

Celline, Bek, Nancy, Ben, Dereje

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