NYU Tandon Ph.D. student adds WRISE honor to a long list of accomplishments

Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy awards Seda Sarp a “Rising Solar” fellowship


Ph.D. student Seda Sarp

Sure, there’s plenty to complain about when it comes to Twitter, but the social-media platform helped set Seda Sarp, now a doctoral candidate in Tandon’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, on her current academic path. It was, specifically, a tweet by Professor Eray Aydil, who chairs the department, that caught her eye. “Not only was the topic of his research relevant to me,” says Sarp, who had earned a master's degree in Earth and Environmental Engineering from Columbia University in 2019, “but I could tell from his name that he was from Turkey, the same as me.”

As a master’s student, Sarp was conducting an internship at a tech startup, but when the pandemic hit, the company eliminated her position, and she became intrigued by the thought of studying with Aydil. She is now a vital member of his Tandon lab, where researchers are working to increase the efficiency of solar cells while lowering their cost. 

Solar cells are a key feature of creating a sustainable energy ecosystem for the future, but they’ve been plagued by one major problem — the nature of light itself — since only certain wavelengths can be efficiently utilized with existing cells, and much of the potential energy that could be captured is wasted. Aydil, Sarp, and their fellow researchers are working on developing films that can be used in the solar cells to shift the light spectrum, for example, turning ultraviolet and blue light (from the less efficient band of the spectrum) into near-infrared light (the more efficient source for solar cells).

Sarp’s work impressed judges from the nonprofit group Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy (WRISE), which is dedicated to accelerating the transition to a sustainable and equitable energy future by igniting the collective power of community, and this month, in partnership with GRID Alternatives, they chose her as one of just seven candidates across the country as a “Rising Solar” fellow.

The fellowship provides mentoring and networking opportunities, as well as a chance to attend the group’s eagerly awaited annual RE+ conference, being held this year in California. This is, however, far from the only honor Sarp has received over the course of her academic career: she was the recipient, for example, of a full merit scholarship to Turkey’s Koç University, where she was named Vehbi Koc Scholar from 2014 to 2018 (the designation given to the year’s top-ranked student), as well as a full merit scholarship to Columbia.

“Along with everyone who has ever worked with Seda, I am well aware of her keen insight and research abilities. It is a pleasure to see her acknowledged by WRISE, and I feel exceedingly lucky that she decided to join the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department and my group,” Aydil says. 

Sarp — who served as the president of Koç’s Society of Woman Engineers (SWE) and currently sits on the board of SWE's professional chapter in New York — feels deeply grateful for WRISE’s support and expresses a profound understanding of just how important it is, as a woman in STEM, to have a strong network of other women cheering you on. It’s a lesson she learned early in life, from her mother. “During the period when she would have entered college, there was a coup going on in Turkey, and it was dangerous to even walk the streets,” Sarp explains. “It was only much later, at the age of 40, with two young children to care for, that she was able to study economics and earn a degree. She enthusiastically encouraged me in my own goals, and I feel so proud of her for attaining hers. She’ll always be one of my most important role models and inspiration.” 

Aydil relates deeply to that part of his student’s life: “It’s interesting that in addition to being born in the same country, we have inspirational mothers in common,” he explains. “Mine was one of the first woman computer programmers in Turkey, totally self-taught despite barely finishing high school because she had me at such a young age."