PVAMU Participates in Department of Energy’s Clean Energy Consortium

May 5, 2017
Prairie View A&M University

Prairie View A&M University has entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy to form the HBCU Clean Energy Consortium. This new agreement will focus on the following: bringing solar energy to working communities, developing research in innovative technologies at HBCUs, and increasing the number of black students pursuing degrees and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. Eight other Historically Black Colleges and Universities are also involved in the agreement: Coppin State University, Florida Memorial University, Johnson C. Smith University, Morgan State University, Southern University – New Orleans, Southern University – Shreveport, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and the University of the Virgin Islands.

The agreement was started in 2012 and consists of two phases. During 2012-2014, PVAMU served as the pilot’s lead institute with one national lab and five HBCUs involved. During phase two, 2014 -2017, Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University (FAMU) will serve as the lead institute, and has two national labs participating, Los Alamos National Lab and Lawrence Livermore National Lab. The agreement works with the national labs so students can train on instruments they may use in the future during internships and professional employment. Working with national labs also helps the schools identify scientists who can visit campus and conduct workshops about their research.

“National labs help us find the resources and equipment they use and want us to have the similar equipment to train the students on the same internships,” said Hua-Jun Fan, Ph.D., principal investigator for the project. Fan is a member of the Chemistry Department at PVAMU and coordinates research efforts with faculty, students and outside entities. As a primary investigator, he arranges the summer internship relationships with outside consortium members, national labs and other entities so students have the opportunity participate in various experiences. Fan also arranges for students to visit other research schools like Indiana University, Texas Tech University, University of Texas at San Antonio, Iowa State University and Texas A&M University. “We are trying to send our students to more places so they can get training beyond the PVAMU campus,” said Fan. Each semester, Dr. Fan has 20 to 30 students work alongside him and other faculty members on research projects.

“In terms of the communities, we mainly work with high school students and bring them to the campus to do summer research with the undergraduate students and faculty in the Chemistry department,” said Fan. While on campus, the high school students are introduced to how the project research was carried out, do computational modeling and synthesis of making nano composite materials or small organic moleculars to be used in the solar energy conversion. Now that the partnership is in place, PVAMU has developed a bottom up synthesis approach. “We work with collaborators to train students on how to use chemical synthesis to make nano composite materials, more serious compounds and modeling,” said Fan.  They are changing the energy gap of the composite material so they can convert them to different colors/frequencies of the light into the energy.

Since the project’s inception, almost 300 students have had the opportunity to participate and pursue degrees in the STEM field. Some students have gone on to work for companies like Martin Reed in Dallas, Boeing Corporation in South Carolina and pursue higher education degrees at Prairie View A&M University, Kansas State University and Texas A&M University. “The partnership means a great deal for the success of the students and the financial support for students to focus on research and academic studies,” said Fan, “It’ll help them grow professionally and exponentially so they can focus on their studies and not get distracted.”

Fan said he feels this agreement will benefit the overall campus community and change the atmosphere and attitude of students. “I’ve been receiving more and more applications from students who want to be a part of the consortium,” said Fan. “Simply because they heard from other students what they can do and what kind of awards they receive by doing the research with me.” While the students are helping him with the research, Fan believes he can shape their view of the STEM field and advise students on how to pursue their academics, Grade Point Average and campus involvement. “Many of them are afraid to get into chemistry or get into the STEM field because they feel there is too much work to do,” said Fan, “If they do it right, they can achieve and accomplish a lot more than they thought.”