My name is Kerry Wang. I'm from Texas. I go to the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities where I am a PhD Materials Science and Engineering candidate.
What got you interested in sustainability?
I've been wanting to "saving the planet" for as long as I can remember, but most of that was from a very physical and technical perspective. I wouldn't have considered myself interested in "sustainability" until the middle of my undergrad, after I took an Environmental Sociology course. It was only then that I seriously thought about human (social, political, economic, etc.) aspects of sustainability, which I feel represent many of today's bottlenecks. Turns out getting people to get along and take care of each other and their shared environment is not easy in today's social and political paradigm.
What sustainability, energy, and mobility issues are important to you?
I like taking a step back and seeing the systems view of sustainability, so it's hard to pinpoint any specific issues. If you think about it sustainability is kind of the broadest discipline…ever. It's how to live on planet Earth indefinitely!
Mobility is especially important in my current city of Minneapolis. Studies have shown than transit is a bottleneck in economic development here - there are jobs and there are people looking for jobs, and they aren't in the same region! And then there are issues of affordability of housing and public transit (we are contemplating an increase in transit fares). Meanwhile, pollution from automobile traffic presents a real public health problem to some of our most vulnerable communities (see: environmental racism) - so all of these things are interconnected. I really enjoy looking at this bigger picture and seeing how everything fits together. I guess one of the aspects of sustainability I've been more recently interested in is equity. Making sure the costs and benefits of decisions we make as a society do not disproportionately favor or prejudice certain groups of people is something I don't think is taken seriously enough.
What exciting projects/research are you working on now?
As a grad student, I work on computational modelling of a new method of manufacturing single crystalline solar cells, which are the highest efficiency kind of mass-manufactured cell today. Right now, these solar cells are made by solidifying a huge column of single crystalline silicon and sawing it into wafers thinner than .2 mm. You end up losing half your material as saw dust or kerf loss as it's called. The method I'm analyzing involves growing silicon in thin, flat sheets so you can directly use it for cell assembly without sawing.
Outside of that, I had been starting and running the UMN Energy Club at school, which is basically dedicated to connecting people from all across our campus over energy - the policy folks, business, arts, engineering, community activists - everyone. All of us who are trying to tackle these grand challenges are limited by staying in our niches and our anxiety of working with people who might think vastly differently from us. But at the end of the day, we're all on the same team, and we're going to have to perform at the highest levels together if we want to expect a habitable future (not trying to fearmonger! just telling it like it is!). I'm not in charge of the club anymore, but I'm around to support the new generation of student leaders.
What are your plans for the next five years?
I'm not sure! I'm hoping SISE can help me figure out! I'll have to step out of the role as a technical specialist at some point in my career, but I'm not sure when or where I'll be. I could see myself working in a non-profit or for local/state government.
What made you want to apply to SISE?
I wanted to get some experience working on a real-world problem with a bunch of other smart people who understand things that I know nothing about! I also wanted to challenge myself and to test my problem-solving skills outside of an engineering context.
What are you most looking forward to doing in the city?
Any place I travel to, I always try to pay attention to just how people live their everyday lives and what role the built environment plays. Parks, public spaces, local shops/restaurants/markets, transit, cultural activities, etc. What things work? What things don't work? What can I take back to my community?
Also, fun fact: Minneapolis and Chicago are two of three cities in the US where taking public transit from downtown to the nearest airport is faster than driving (the third being Honolulu)! So I'll definitely look forward to making use of the transit infrastructure!
Do you like cats? If not, are you willing to learn to like cats?
Not so much. =/ Well, maybe if you consider big cats. Like panthers and leopards and tigers and lions and such. Murder kitties. Does that count?