WWU Spotlight – Project Two: Solar Power

WWU Spotlight – Project Two: Solar Power

Here we are, the second stop on the Western Washington University project tour I’ve been working on with fellow creative, Andy Lahmann.

WWU has contracted us to cover a number of cutting edge programs; Andy tackles the video production and I handle the photography end, with both coming together to provide WWU with a well-documented set of visuals detailing the programs (click here to see the first project, as well as a further explanation of this whole shebang). WWU’s solar program was up to bat to be in front of the lens.

I’ve found this project to be just as educational as it has been challenging. The video crew usually has first crack at intel and shooting before I come in to photograph. I’m briefed the night before my shoot on the who’s, where’s, what’s, and why’s, painting the overall picture so I’m not walking in totally blind. Just as important as anything else is learning about what your photographing so that it translates properly. When that certain subject matter involves a collegiate program… there’s a lot of learning to do. Suddenly my job transforms from photographer to student, and as I study my soon-to-follow photo subject I almost feel like I’ve just enrolled in another quarter of college. The upswing here, I didn’t have a final to pass… well, kinda. My mission is to translate all of this to a photographic storytelling.

Solar technology was my crash course this time around. WWU is working hard to make better and more efficient solar panels. In order to make all of this come together they require the involvement of many fields of study. Physics, chemistry, mathematics, and engineering. You wouldn’t think about it right off of the top of your head, but everything comes down to math. So there was a group of talented individuals breaking this science down to math formulas to make these solar energy gathering panels perfect.

This shot below was taken with my camera inside of one of the many chemistry lab tanks. Here they mix all of the goodies together, all the while writing down precise calculations on the glass of the tank.

Science departments are super fun to walk around in. Lab room after lab room of beakers, tubes, and a bunch of other things that any proud mad scientist would own are strung about, each workstation with their own very specific purpose.

My favorite stop on the day was photographing the physical solar chips that they have produced for testing. All kinds of variants of panels, some better than other as they perfect the science of capturing light to harness it’s energy. I found a cool metal surface to give our makeshift product studio a little drama and hit the chips with a UV lamp to get them to glow. The little containers you see also in the photographs are the UV sensitive dyes applied in the process (if I remember correctly).

Lead professor in the program holding up a solar chip with a UV lamp in the background.

The passion these guys have for science was evident in their reactions to seeing the photographs on the back of the camera. You’d think someone just handed them keys to a new car or something, which made our production grew laugh. It was a good day for learnin’ and capturin’ science.

Project three on the list will be captured this week and will require us to travel to the Northwest tip of Washington. More to come on that, stay tuned.