Focus on 2017 Regeneron Scholar Archana Verma
By CAROLINE CHEN
Spin-orbit Coupling Induced Heterogeneous Excited State Dynamics in 6-Coordinate Transition Metal Protodyes
“About 20 years ago, scientists developed dye-sensitized solar cells (DSSCs), which were attractive since they are cheap, thin, and flexible—they can even be integrated into windows, a concept similar to the Tesla roof. However, over these 20 years, there has been minimal improvement in DSSC efficiency, and they therefore are unable to compete with the bulky, silicon solar panels used today. My project focused on chemically analyzing the light-absorbing dye in DSSCs. I used modern laser spectroscopy techniques to understand what happens as light gets absorbed and how the electron would generate current,” said Archana, who found that a property of the transition metals used in dyes (spin-orbit coupling) may be responsible for driving a second, competing current-generating mechanism, contributing to the lack of DSSC efficiency growth.
“Prior to taking the research course, along with AP Chemistry, at Jericho High School,” said Archana, “I did well in Honors classes and whatnot, but wasn’t anyone special. I liked math/science, but I wasn’t obsessed or passionate. I didn’t even like chemistry all that much. I think the class intensified my passion for chemistry, because the class encourages curiosity about your topic. It requires you to study one project for years—you better love what you’re doing.”
The Regeneron STS 5th Place winner, who earned $92,000 for her research, also believes that the research class showed her the benefits of hard work and ambition. “You have to work for winning. I was never pushed to achieve such high standards before. When someone sets high standards that we MUST meet, I found myself doing more than I thought I could do.”
“Just being around driven students and one inspiring and ambitious teacher brings out the best in me. The other students inspire me to be better, and I love learning from them, since they all have unique perspectives. And let’s not forget Dr. McCalla. She has sacrificed so much so that we can do well—just remembering that makes me want to work harder and achieve more. The amount of time and energy she spends critiquing us, learning our individual projects, learning how to excel, and remaining composed and professional every day is truly unreal. It serves as a reminder of how much we should put into her class, because she does the same for us.”
Archana won 1st Place in Chemistry at both LISEF (where she also won the Yale Science and Engineering Association Special Award) and NYSSEF. After moving on to Intel ISEF, she won the 1st Place Grand Award in Chemistry. Moreover, Archana won 2nd Place in the Chemistry Poster Division of the Junior Science and Humanities Symposia (JSHS) and 1st Place at the WAC Lighting Invitational Science Fair.
Archana is Co-President of Quiz Bowl and is an active member of Mathletes, National Honor Society, Science Bowl, and the Varsity Badminton team. Her interests include Bollywood dance, art, photography, tutoring in math and science, and volunteering at birthday parties and community events.