Dr. Sheila Bailey may be perpetuating the stereotype of a typical “woman of science” (frizzy androgenous hair, frumpy mannish clothes), but nonetheless she is my new hero. She's a super-important physicist (with the hair and wardrobe you'd expect from a female physicist, to boost) who works in the Photovoltaics and Space Environments branch at Glenn Research Center. She does lots of ultra-innovative works improving solar cells using quantum dots (I'll get to that later-I wish I remembered more from 3.091 because I wanted to understand her talk better). But, the reason she's my hero isn't (entirely) the research she does; she's rad because of her life story. She's traveled all over the world. She went to grad school in England and did a post-doc in Australia. After that she “hitch-hiked” back (across the ocean) to England, where she and her husband bought an antique British ambulance. They then used the ambulance to drive all the way to Nairobi. That means she had to drive across the Sahara. She then drove to Thailand and Cambodia (and everywhere in between), and had lots of crazy adventures. But, she got pregnant and had to cut her escapades short and go back to the United States. She has three kids, and she had to raise them mostly on her own because her husband left her when her youngest kid was about to enter school. Wow. So, after ten years of “working on the farm” and staying at home with her kids, she got back into the industry, did a lot of part-time teaching, and then eventually started working at NASA in 1985. She's been flourishing there ever since, and is really involved in all sorts of pioneering research and inter-disciplinary collaborations. She's also very involved in educational outreach and getting girls involved in science and technology, and as a consequence she was inducted into the Ohio Women's Hall of Fame. And she loves to talk. When we mentioned the video we were making, she immediately said we could go to her for funding or advice or for a tour of her lab. Yup, she's definitely my hero.
But back to her research…
Dr. Bailey is working on using quantum dots to improve the effectiveness of solar cells. What are quantum dots? (I didn't know until two hours ago, either…) What I've been able to gather is that quantum are like little tiny semi-conductors that luminesce or fluoresce (I wasn't quire sure which…I think it has to do with the wavelength of light they emit) when they get hit by alpha particles. Dr. Bailey uses quantum dots to:
-power photovoltaic (or solar) cells when they are in the dark. This combination allows you to make a very tiny self-contained power source (that requires only a radioactive material to supply the alpha particles) that can be used for anything from small sensors (including bio-sensors) to large-scale power for electric propulsion systems (see earlier post about Eric Pencil).
-increase the efficiency of traditional photovoltaic cells by inserting layers of quantum dots into traditional photovoltaic materials (into the “i-layer”…I wasn't quite clear on what that is).
-create photovoltaic cells out of polymers, which are way cheaper than the materials they currently use (I think it's silicon), by injecting them with carbon nano-tubes that have quantum dots clinging to them.
All right, I'm going to stop gushing about Dr. Bailey because it is, after all, Friday night, and I still haven't gotten to experience the Cleveland nightlife. Maybe tonight will be the night…