Chemistry Student to Present Solar Cell Study

Sergiu Draguta

Sergiu Draguta

Las Vegas, N.M. — New Mexico Highlands University chemistry student Sergiu Draguta will present a nano-crystal solar cell study at the international Materials Research Society Spring Meeting and Exhibit April 21 — 25 in San Francisco.

In May, Draguta completes his master’s in chemistry from Highlands. He has excelled academically — earning a 3.9 GPA — and has been accepted into two chemistry Ph.D. programs, including the University of Notre Dame. 

Draguta works full-time as a graduate researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he is part of the Nanotechnology and Advanced Spectroscopy Team led by research scientist Victor Klimov, who also heads LANL’s  Center for Advanced Solar Photophysics.

“Sergiu is a rigorous, persistent researcher who learns quickly in the lab,” Klimov said. “His performance is comparable to a postdoctoral student. We’d be happy to have him work as a researcher with us after he completes his doctoral studies.”

Draguta is the first author on the research study he’ll present at the MRS meeting.

“We’re researching quantum dots — very tiny crystal particles — which have unique properties that can make solar cells more efficient,” Draguta said. “Traditional solar cells absorb light from the sun and provide electricity, but can convert only about 20 percent of the sunlight. Solar is very clean energy, with no carbon dioxide emissions.”

The 25-year-old is a native of Moldova, an eastern European country bordered by Romania and Ukraine. He earned both a B.S. and M.S. in physics from Moldova State University.

At Highlands, Draguta is a graduate research assistant in chemistry professor Tatiana Timofeeva’s state-of-the art X-Ray Diffraction Laboratory that the National Science Foundation funded.

“I wanted to come to Highlands to learn about organic materials and X-ray diffraction research techniques with Dr. Timofeeva,” Draguta said. “She’s a very experienced and knowledgeable researcher. In Dr. Timofeeva’s lab I had the opportunity to pursue high-quality research that is competitive with other universities around the world. I’m very grateful.”

The diffractomenter uses X-rays to determine the atomic structure of molecules that have crystallized. Crystallography is the science that studies the forms and structure of crystals.

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, named 2014 the International Year of Crystallography, with the aim of strengthening international research collaboration and increasing public awareness of crystallography.

During his time at Highlands, Draguta has been a prolific researcher, publishing eight crystallography studies, including five as first author. Timofeeva is his adviser, and co-authored many of the studies.  

In August 2013, Draguta presented his thesis research at the 21st International Conference on the Chemistry of the Organic Solid State at Oxford University in Cambridge, England.

“Sergiu develops his own research ideas and proceeds well, working independently,” Timofeeva said. “He’s a very disciplined, dedicated researcher, working full-time at LANL and then in our X-Ray Diffraction Laboratory on the weekends. Sergiu’s research presentations are always exceptional. He’s impressive.”

For his thesis, Draguta investigated X-ray crystal structures to develop a series of new organic materials suitable for optical information transmission, storage and retrieval. He used X-ray diffraction for the material analysis.

“These new crystals show experimental nonlinear optical effects, with the organic material changing properties of light — like wavelength — as light passes through it,” Draguta said. “This makes the new crystals good candidates for industrial applications, like more efficient airport laser screening machines that are better at detecting organic explosive materials.”

He learned about Highlands from a fellow student from Moldova, Alexandr Fonari, who completed his M.S. in chemistry from Highlands in 2011 and is in a chemistry Ph.D. program at Georgia Tech.

“My goal for my doctoral studies is to continue my research on solar cells and light interaction of materials — both organic and inorganic,” Draguta said. “I want to eventually be either a university chemistry professor and researcher or a research scientist at one of the national labs in the U.S.”

Timofeeva said: “I expect Sergiu to do extremely well in his doctoral studies. He has tremendous potential and his future should be bright.”