A keen interest in renewable energy and a job opening on a research team was the perfect “solar” convergence for Matthew Mayberry.
The second-year electrical engineering technology student had just decided to take the co-op option available to students in his program when he saw a posting for a student research assistant in the Centre for Sustainable Energy & Environments (CSEE). It was to work on two solar energy projects – the first, a solar power station optimization project with London Hydro studying energy collection/ controls/batteries and transference of solar power to the Ontario power grid; the second, helping develop a small solar-powered utility vehicle. (The first project involves Prof. Martin Volkening of the School of Applied Science & Technology; the latter is led by Dr. Ke Liu of the same school. Dr. John Makaran, Industrial Research Chair, also is involved in solar research.)
Mayberry says he was attracted to this position over other co-op job postings because of his interest in solar energy as a career direction.
One of his main responsibilities as a member of the team is to collect data from the two solar panels installed atop B Building at the London Campus. He was involved in the recent installation of a weather station designed to collect more real-time climate data, and currently monitors and modifies the software program to streamline collection. The program allows researchers to measure and analyze solar radiation levels in order to make better forecasts about the amount of energy that can be collected each day.
The solar-powered utility vehicle – known as the SUV – is a project examining how to better collect and manage solar energy systems in small vehicles in order to improve performance, extend battery life and running time. So far, the research team has built three prototypes using golf cart chassis. They are currently being tested and modified as the research progresses.
Mayberry worked with Jonathan Dayus, another co-op student, on the SUV micro-controls and has been involved in experimenting with thinner, more flexible solar panels to boost efficiency and be more esthetically pleasing to SUV customers. Mayberry was also involved in ordering parts and various tasks for the projects.
A newcomer to research, Mayberry says he expected the projects to be more structured than they were. “I thought research would be much more like a classroom, where you are told to do this and this and this. We go have an end goal for the project but how you get there is a lot less regulated than in a classroom whether the teacher has expectations and things have to be done a certain way. Here, you're much more left to your own devices. How you reach that goal is much more up to you.”
This worked for him because he is a hands-on learner, and learns and remembers more if he has worked it out on his own, Mayberry says.
“It definitely gives you a better appreciation of what you do in classwork. It allows you to see what you are learning in the class and how you can apply it in the field."
"One of the things our teachers always stress is that they are not teaching us to do things, they are teaching us to learn how to do things. So they give us the resources to research things so we can learn them on our own."
Participation in applied research has resulted in some improved communication skills as well, he says. What surprised him most about his work was "the difficulty of trying to communicate with people over the telephone and by email. I never appreciated face-to-face talk until I had to order parts or get information on something through the phone or emails. It's like you're speaking different languages to people. Eventually you do get what you need but it takes much longer than you'd expect it to. It's helped my communication skills. It has also made me better at wording what I am asking for so the person on the other end understands me more. I found that especially when I talk to sales representatives using technical talk. They don't understand, but they really do, they just use different words," he says.
"My last semester has a lot of project-based classes. If I really like the project-based atmosphere I might start my own company and go with projects I create myself. Or I may go into the industry for say, five or 10 years to get more experience, network, meet people. Eventually I would like to start my own company. It's just a matter of getting there."