They traveled nearly 20 hours by plane and bus across 5,700 miles to spend three weeks in the Central Valley sun.
Fifteen engineering students from Dankook University in Yongin, Gyeonggi, South Korea, have come to UC Merced to get hands-on experience in the research conducted at the UC Advanced Solar Technologies Institute (UC Solar), which is headquartered at UC Merced’s Castle Research Center. UC Solar is made up of faculty and researchers from the University of California’s Merced, Berkeley, Santa Barbara, Davis and San Diego campuses.
This is the first time UC Solar at Merced has hosted a group of students for such a program, but Ron Durbin, UC Solar executive director, said everyone hopes it won’t be the last.
“International exchange programs are definitely a big part of what we do at the University of California,” Durbin said. “They enable students from various parts of the world to interact and share ideas, and I guarantee you it’s a trip that the students themselves will not soon forget.”
Under the direction of UC Merced Professor and UC Solar Director Roland Winston, the students in the International Exchange Program in Solar Energy Innovation listen to three lectures a week, participate in research and get time to work on their own projects – designing more efficient solar concentrators, which is a specialty at Professor Winston’s Non-Imaging Optics Lab. Concentrators are used to focus a large amount of sunlight onto a small area.
This is some of the students’ first shot at research, while others, like Yea Na Shin, are already research veterans and have even earned government grants for their work. Shin and her team of fellow students are working to create a less expensive silicone core for solar cells.
The students arrived when temperatures were quite a bit higher than they are used to living near Seoul. Back home, while temperatures can reach the mid-90s, they are used to much more rain, and some extreme cold, too – fluctuations that make the idea of highly efficient solar collectors and concentrators that much more critical.
Right away, the students began learning about the collector and concentrator work UC Merced researchers, including instructor Yong Sin “Shon” Kim, are doing. They explored topics like nonimaging optics, geometrical optics, and photovoltaic systems, and traced the sun’s rays and measured their intensity.
The students are scheduled to complete the program July 27.
“We hope they will learn how to make systems more efficient and less expensive,” Kim said. “Most of them are materials science students, and we want them to get a big picture of solar energy.”
The students’ first week also included a trip to San Francisco to the Intersolar North America conference and exhibition.
“We were very interested in how they make everything,” said student Sihwan Kim.
“We want to learn more about how we can better use solar energy in South Korea,” said student Keeryung Park.
Last week, the students also got to see a different kind of energy production process when they toured the hydroelectric facilities owned by Merced Irrigation District, which sponsors UC Solar.
Though they are staying at a local hotel for the three weeks they are here, the students have also already visited the UC Merced campus, and have toured around the area a bit, as well. They’ve tried local Korean food and called it “pretty good.”
The idea was first initiated by former UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang and Chancellor Ho-sung Chang at Dankook, and officials at Dankook proposed the exchange when Winston visited there to give a lecture. Because UC Merced undergraduates are often involved in research, officials here felt it would be a perfect fit.
This summer program itself is partially underwritten by Korea’s Educational Institute of Energy, which includes Hyundai as one of its major sponsors.
“We are very pleased to host this program,” Winston said. “The students are eager to learn and we are doing our best to prepare them to be tomorrow’s solar energy leaders and entrepreneurs.”