As an environmentally minded chemical engineering student, Chisom Amaechi, now 22, thought she had landed a dream internship the summer before her senior year. But the Carnegie Mellon University student discovered that working at a BP refinery in Toledo, Ohio, where she had hoped to get familiar with solar technology, didn't satisfy her desire to have a global impact. It took a summer studying abroad in Brazil to realize her real dream: to help developing nations find affordable energy solutions.
Under the sun. In Campinas, Brazil, Amaechi learned firsthand about sustainable energy sources—from methane gas at waste treatment plants to hydroelectric power. Her final report was on potential uses of solar energy by communities living off Brazil's power grid.
[Read more: Bitten by the Green Design Bug.]
Potential. Now a first-year Ph.D. student at the University of Delaware, Amaechi finds the school's proximity to government labs and the interdisciplinary nature of her program make it an ideal place to study. She's working to increase the efficiency of organic photovoltaic cells for solar panels, which would cut the cost of solar energy. "If this works, it could really help a lot of other fields too," she says. "It has a huge range and potential."
Outreach. Amaechi hopes to take her research back to a developing country. "Solar energy can really help people, especially those in Third World countries," she says. "[There] I can see the impact that I can have. My work will be a lot more meaningful."