Solar Energy: How a Physicist’s Career Changed

In recent years, solar power has emerged as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. Not only is it sustainable, but it also provides a cost-effective solution for green energy. While solar energy has been successfully implemented in many parts of the world, it is still in its infancy in terms of mass adoption in the U.S. For decades, conventional electric power companies have actively discouraged homeowners from installing solar panels on their roofs, largely due to economic reasons. However, solar energy is becoming more affordable, and its benefits are more easily understood and recognized.

Early Career

When most people think of a scientist, they imagine a person clad in a white lab coat, sitting in front of a desk piled high with books and papers. While a traditional scientist’s early career might include a few years of graduate school followed by a steady stream of publications, there is a more fashionable approach called “Reverse Research” that is gaining popularity.

In case you’re curious, reverse research is when a scientist takes a previously unexplored area and re-evaluates it using modern science. For example, geneticist Carol Barrenechea studied how the human eye works and published a book in 2018 revealing the results of her research, titled “The Genes of the Eye.” Barrenechea’s academic career started with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in biochemistry. While this might not sound like an obvious starting point for a career in astronomy, Barrenechea was actually inspired to study the human eye after her grandmother became legally blind due to diabetes.

After earning her doctorate in genetics from the University of Texas at Austin, Barrenechea applied for postdoctoral positions in the fields of astronomy or astrophysics. While she was waiting for her applications to be evaluated, Barrenechea noticed that the astronomy department at UT Austin had an opening for a senior scientist. Impressed by the prospect of getting into a top-notch research institution, Barrenechea decided to take a leap of faith and submitted an application for an assistant professorship. She didn’t hear back from the administration for over a year, until one day she received a phone call from the department inquiring about her status. Barrenechea was over the moon to discover that she had been awarded an assistant professorship at the University of Texas at Austin.

Rise of the Maker Movement

In 2011, citizens in Spain got a taste of power supplied by solar energy when Marques Solar Farms’ 2.3MW solar farm started providing electricity to the city of Barcelona. It was at this moment that the “maker movement” was born, spurred on by initiatives such as this.

The maker movement is a cultural and technological phenomenon that emerged as a response to the digital era and its associated wealth of opportunities and distractions. Professionals in this movement work with a variety of tools and technologies to produce tangible objects that embody their passion for experimentation and craftsmanship.

Solar energy is an excellent fit for the maker movement. Not only is it a green and sustainable source of energy, but it is also something that anyone can put into practice, regardless of technical know-how or previous experience. In addition, solar panels don’t need constant maintenance and can provide a steady supply of energy for decades.

Reverse Research

The benefits of solar energy are many, but the most practical application is its ability to provide clean and sustainable power to communities and individuals. As demand for green energy grows, more people are turning to solar energy to power their homes and businesses.

However, the field of solar energy is so vast and complicated that not all scientists will be able to harness its potential. For example, in order to truly understand the functioning of the solar system, you have to be an astrophysicist, solar researcher, or space engineer, and a degree in physics isn’t usually sufficient to get you started on your career in solar power.

What is needed is a strategy to attract, retain, and motivate talented scientists with bachelor’s degrees in physical science, who might otherwise be overlooked for a job in solar energy. Thankfully, there are several promising initiatives aimed at jump-starting the careers of young scientists, many of whom were previously discouraged from applying for a job in solar energy because of its low pay and lack of prestige. One such program is the SunShot Initiative, a solar energy research and development project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Why Solar Energy?

As previously stated, solar energy is a practical source of power that anyone can utilize. In addition, many people are starting to see the positive impact that solar energy can have on the planet. In 2018, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report calling for a 100 percent renewable energy system by 2050. The report stated that there is no other energy source that can compare to solar energy in terms of its potential to alleviate global warming and climate change. Furthermore, many prominent scientists and climate change specialists see both solar energy and clean air as essential for combating climate change. You can take this one step further and argue that a world populated by only solar-powered devices would be more ideal as clean air is essential to ensure that people remain healthy.

How to Become Involved With Solar Energy

If you’re interested in learning more about solar energy or want to enter the field as a career, you have several options. First, you could look into taking a course on solar energy or energy management at a community college. Alternatively, you could look for a job at a company that is already involved in the field. Third, you could consider becoming a student of the solar system, studying how it works and what are the challenges ahead. Finally, you could create a small business that provides sustainable products and services to the public, such as providing green power or selling solar-powered devices.

Decades of scientific study and technological innovation have culminated in a more modern approach to harnessing the power of the sun. From rooftop solar panels to electric vehicles, the solar industry has evolved alongside the times we’re in. However, even with all the advances that have been made, there is still a great deal of room for improvement before solar energy can be considered a mainstream energy source.

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