Research Computing @ UTEP: Rajendra Zope

This is the second in a series of profiles on users of UTEP’s high performance computing capabilities. To learn more, click here.

By Nadia M. Whitehead

UTEP News Service

Clean, solar energy is on the rise, but still faces a major obstacle.

Organic, or plastic, solar cells that convert light to energy are extremely cost-effective, but only about 8 percent efficient, while inorganic, silicon-based solar cells are much more efficient with rates as high as 25-30 percent, but much more costly.Rajendra Zope, Ph.D., assistant professor of physics, is developing software that can identify promising materials to make organic solar cells more efficient. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News ServiceRajendra Zope, Ph.D., assistant professor of physics, is developing software that can identify promising materials to make organic solar cells more efficient. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service

“We need to identify promising materials that will make organic solar cells more efficient,” said Rajendra Zope, Ph.D., assistant professor of physics, who is using UTEP’s high performance computing system to develop software to identify promising materials candidates.

“A lot of important discoveries require a combination of different materials, so finding the best possible organic solar cell would require a lot of experimental trial and error,” the physicist said. “But if you have software that can help do this for you – like ours – you could identify potential materials a lot cheaper and faster.”

Although Zope is not involved in the creation or testing of solar cells, he said using a computer to sift through hundreds, maybe even thousands of materials is vital and must be done to reach the goal of making organic solar cells more efficient.

 “The dream is that one day you’ll be able to paint the outside of your house with [a liquid form of] solar cells, and it will be able to help run the systems within, like your air conditioner,” he said.

Zope, who has been using high performance computing systems for more than 10 years, said even though he has had access to national supercomputers owned by the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, nothing compares to using your own local computing system – like UTEP’s.

“National systems require you to write proposals, say exactly how you will use the system and then wait to see if you’re accepted – but our system here allows for a lot more exploratory research. If I have a random idea one day, I can just use the system without asking anyone,” he said.

The flexibility of the system allows for much more creativity, trial and error, and chance at pinpointing a candidate for organic solar cell efficiency.

For his work, Zope is also utilizing the UT System’s Research Cyberinfrastructure (UTRC) project and the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE), the most powerful and robust collection of integrated advanced digital resource and services in the world.