Professor to return, teach energy science course after 30-year absence

March 9, 2015

April Wefler
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A new course is going to be offered in energy science, if it gets approved by an LAS committee.

The 4,000-level course, titled “Photovoltaics,” discusses the fabrication and economics of various photovoltaic technologies, as well as the integration into panels and a look at future cell and storage technologies.

The course will teach the physics of a solar cell, solar cell design and its application in single-house and large arrays for producing electricity.

The main purpose of photovoltaics, essentially solar cells, is to generate electricity from light.

“I’m really excited about it. It’s the first new course that we’ve had in many years in the program,” said Jim Burkhart, professor and chair of the physics department.

The course, taught by Robert Jones, is targeted at science or engineering students with an interest in solar electric energy. Jones is a renowned expert in the field of photovoltaics and a former UCCS professor returning after a 30-year absence.

“I’m very interested in energy and sustainability,” he said.

Jones introduced solar thermal classes during his original UCCS career and then spent 25 years in the industry.

“[Studying photovoltaics] seems appropriate at this point in time,” Jones said. “The cost has gone way down on photovoltaics and it will be feasible for some applications as the cost continues to decrease.”

Jones said photovoltaic cost is decreasing because of volume of production and time on the market. He said that technology starts out expensive; as it matures and more science and engineering goes into it, the expense lessens.

When Jones moved back to Colorado, he visited Burkhart, who convinced him to design the course.

Jones said the course is optional and that he hopes the students will be excited about it.

“If they’re interested in photovoltaics or the possibility of working in that area, it’s a good course to take,” he said.

“I think it’s going to be great,” Burkhart said. “Those students who are taking the energy science track in physics will love it.”

He said that while we do have a lot of coal, there is pressure to stop using the resources because it releases carbon dioxide, sulfur and other gases into the environment.

“It is so clear that [finding other ways of] energy is probably one of the most important facets of our civilization because we are running out of fossil fuels,” Burkhart said.

He also said that our oil is a limited resource and we will run out of it.

Although energy science students learn about fossil fuels, the emphasis is on solar, nuclear and wind energy.

“All of these are long-term. It can last us for centuries,” Burkhart said.

Energy science, which is offered as a track in the physics department, consists of a solar energy lecture, a solar energy lab, an introduction to energy science course, a 2000-level course focusing on sustainable energy, two 3000-level courses focusing on wind and nuclear energy and the new Photovoltaics course.

The physics department started in 1975, two years before Burkhart started teaching at UCCS. The department, which split from the math department, only offered energy science distributed studies originally.

“Our research has changed completely, but we still want to keep a part of us in energy science.”