July 13, 2018

Externship Report: Hanqing Pan

By Hanqing Pan

The Externship Program is a research exchange program that allows New Mexico graduate students (with an existing assistantship) to spend a semester or summer doing research at a partnering New Mexico university or research facility. This report is from New Mexico Tech student Hanqing Pan about her externship at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, CO.

This past December I left New Mexico Tech to start my externship at National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, CO. My advisor, Dr. Michael Heagy, suggested NREL for several reasons: first, NREL is the premiere institution for solar energy research, which is my dissertation topic; secondly, we found a collaborator whose research aligns very closely with mine. This group uses ultrafast spectroscopic techniques to study charge carrier dynamics. Their research is focused on the fundamental aspect of photocatalysis while mine is focused on the applied aspect. Together, this collaboration will be able to fully elucidate the mechanism of how photocatalysis occurs.

Under the guidance of a postdoc, I worked with a femtosecond laser system to try to understand electron transfer between a dye and a semiconductor. Ultrafast laser systems are unique and can be fairly difficult to access, and I was extremely fortunate to have had this opportunity to use this facility. In between time with the laser, I was also able to utilize other instruments to complete some work for my dissertation experiments. As a result of this collaboration, we hope to publish our results in a manuscript. I also tested some photocatalysts prepared by the postdoc and found that they were highly efficient. We were both very pleased by the results and hope that this will result in another collaborative paper.

What I loved most about NREL was the environment and how helpful everyone was. Everyone there was always willing to help, and I have learned so much during my time there. Perhaps the most important task I achieved was doing a practice run for my dissertation defense. I had originally wanted to sit down with my mentor at NREL and go through my talk with him, but he raised the bar and suggested that I do a full seminar in front of the solar fuels group. I was shocked but was very excited and grateful for this opportunity. I presented in front of a panel of experts in my field, and they all gave me invaluable advice that helped me with my actual defense. I practiced every night for 10 days, and had an amazing practice run. I received so many excellent comments and felt well prepared for my actual defense.

Dr. Heagy suggested NREL three years ago when I was beginning to look into internships. Two years ago I applied for SCGSR - a program directly through DOE to partner with a national lab like NREL. SCGSR was an extremely competitive program that only accepts 50 applicants across the country. I was a runner-up, so I almost made it in, but not quite. When I heard about EPSCoR’s externship program, I was very eager to apply and was accepted. I cannot thank Dr. Heagy and EPSCoR enough for this wonderful opportunity.