UT to begin new master’s degree in photovoltaics this fall

June 15, 2010 | News, UToday
By Meghan Cunningham

A new master’s degree at The University of Toledo will bring together both the science and business knowledge necessary for those interested in alternative energy careers.

The new master’s degree in photovoltaics will have a strong foundation of core course work in physics and photovoltaics, as well as business courses related to manufacturing management.

The goal is to cross-train the students in academic expertise and workplace skills, said Dr. Patricia Komuniecki, vice provost for graduate affairs and dean of the College of Graduate Studies.

“It’s really a perfect fit,” she said. “This is a growing trend not only in our region and state, but the nation. With the new School of Solar and Advanced Renewable Energy and the Scott Park Campus of Energy and Innovation at UT, we have the resources to provide students not only with cutting-edge science backgrounds, but also the business skills they will need.”

In the two-year program, which will welcome its first cohort this fall, students will conduct a research project with UT faculty and participate in practical training in a local photovoltaic manufacturing company, rather than completing a traditional master’s degree thesis. UT has already set up relationships with Xunlight and Xunlight 26 Solar for those experiences, and will be seeking new partnerships as well.

The new master’s degree, which is a collaboration of the colleges of Graduate Studies, Arts and Sciences, and Business Administration, is modeled after the growing trend of Professional Science Master’s (PSM) programs. The plan is to include the program in the new School of Solar and Advanced Renewable Energy.

The University is undergoing the process to have the new photovoltaics master’s program recognized as a PSM by the National Professional Science Master’s Association.

Komuniecki learned about the degree, being called by some “the 21st-century MBA,” at a conference last year and came back to UT energized about pursuing the innovative and practical course of study here. And Dr. Sanjay Khare, UT associate professor of physics and director of the new program, helped her get it started.

Both said the presence of a world-class photovoltaics research faculty in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, led by Professors Robert Collins, Al Compaan, Xunming Deng, Randy Ellingson, Michael Heben and Sylvain Marsillac, made this unique program a possibility.

The new master’s degree in photovoltaics builds on the existing master’s degree program in physics with the addition of the business courses in place of electives and the industrial experience.

It is targeted toward students with a bachelor’s degree in physics, materials science or a related engineering discipline that has the components of technical training. Students pursuing this degree could be mid-career professionals or full-time students who have a passion for the science, Komuniecki said.

“This is for a student who really loves the science and working in the lab,” she said. “We’ve had talented students who enjoyed being in the lab, but didn’t want to pursue a PhD or a career in academia. They would ask what options they had and this is one answer.”

The photovoltaic industry grew 60 percent in 2008 alone, Khare said, and projections show it will continue that rapid growth as the costs of producing electricity from solar energy become equal to and less than those from fossil fuels in five to 10 years.

“This is like being in the electronics industry around 1965 to 1970,” Khare said. “This is what is happening here. It’s just tremendous growth and we’re going to see that continue.”

And as it does, there will be a need for people who know the science and the math working in the solar industry, he said.

The master’s degree in photovoltaics was modeled after other Professional Science Master’s Degree Programs and the goal is that once approved, this would be the first of several PSM programs at UT.

As of last month, there were 194 approved PSM programs with about 2,600 students in the country, with many in the areas of biotechnology, bioinformatics and environmental science. UT’s program would be unique with the photovoltaics emphasis. Southern Illinois University in Carbondale has a PSM in advanced energy and fuel management.

UT also would be the first public university in Ohio with a PSM program. Case Western Reserve University has several — biotechnology, chemistry, math, physics, statistics, and science and technology. And the University of Dayton has a financial mathematics program.

The University is recruiting students for the first cohort, and students interested in the new photovoltaics program should contact Khare at sanjay.khare@utoledo.edu for more information.

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