Student, Faculty Projects Awarded Funding from Rist Institute

Headshots of a woman professor, a woman student and a male student
The 2021-22 RISE fellowship recipients are, from left, Assoc. Prof. of Electrical and Computer Engineering Cordula Schmid, Analytical Chemistry Ph.D. candidate Elizabeth Farrell and junior chemical engineering major Andrew Parker.

By Ed Brennen

A breakthrough method of producing “green” hydrogen. A new, hands-on course on solar cells. And a unique way to recycle plastic waste.

These are the student and faculty projects chosen to receive 2021-22 fellowships from the Rist Institute for Sustainability and Energy (RISE), the university’s center for research on sustainability, climate change and renewable energy.

Now in its second year, the RISE Fellowship Program supports faculty and students interested in pursuing sustainability-related research, education or engagement projects.

Cordula Schmid, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, received a $15,000 faculty fellowship to create a new undergraduate course: Solar PV Performance Analysis and Characterization.

Andrew Parker, a junior chemical engineering major, received a $5,000 undergraduate fellowship for his project, “Biomanufacturing Strategies for Producing Biolubricants from Polyethylene Plastic Wastes.”

And Elizabeth Farrell ’17, a Ph.D. candidate in analytical chemistry, received a $12,000 graduate fellowship for her renewable energy research that seeks to address the climate crisis by using solar energy to produce hydrogen.

“Renewable energy research needs funding sources like this RIST fellowship to support unconventional ideas that, if successful, could break us from our reliance on fossil fuels,” says Farrell, a native of Marblehead, Massachusetts, who earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the Kennedy College of Sciences.

Expected to complete her Ph.D. in May, Farrell is a research assistant with Chemistry Prof. and Dept. Chair David Ryan.

“I applied for this award to accelerate the development of our solar hydrogen production device and quickly bring it to solar energy-conversion efficiency levels that are comparable to traditional solar panels,” Farrell says.

Schmid, director of the Photovoltaic (PV) Prototyping and Testing Lab, will use her fellowship award to expand UML’s sustainability-related course offerings by developing the new solar cell course.

The course will include a hands-on lab where students will prototype a solar PV module, including soldering and lamination.

“Renewable energy research needs funding sources like this RIST fellowship to support unconventional ideas that, if successful, could break us from our reliance on fossil fuels.” -RISE 2021-22 Fellow Elizabeth Farrell

Prior to joining the Francis College of Engineering in 2019, Schmid was a member of the PV Technologies team at the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems CSE in Boston. She previously worked at the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM in Freiburg, Germany.

Parker’s project will explore a way to keep polyethylene (PE) plastic waste out of landfills. Used in everyday plastic items like grocery bags, packaging film, toys and water bottles, PE is difficult to recycle because it is extremely resistant to quick biodegradation.

Working with Chemical Engineering Assoc. Prof. Dongming Xie’s research group at UML’s Massachusetts Biomanufacturing Center, Parker will investigate how to create biodegradable lubricants from PE plastic wastes.

“Our research will help provide not only a more sustainable source of biolubricants, but also a very promising solution for upcycling PE plastic wastes,” says Parker, who is from Tyngsboro, Massachusetts. "This fellowship promotes students to target sustainability-oriented research. The focus of students now can determine the focus of all of us years from now."

RISE is a collaboration between the Office of Sustainability, the Climate Change Initiative and Energy Engineering Program.

“On behalf of the Rist Institute, I’d like to congratulate this year’s fellowship recipients and thank all of the students and faculty who applied,” says RISE co-director Ruairi O’Mahony. “These innovative, real-world projects exemplify our efforts to integrate the university’s strengths in research and education to create blueprints for human-scale sustainability.”