Anyone who knew Miles C. Barr as a kid no doubt realized he’d go far. His early childhood “inventions” included a robotic walking monkey built using a windshield-wiper motor from an abandoned school bus and a hovercraft he’d assembled with parts from a vacuum cleaner and a porch table. Likewise those who met him during his undergrad days at Vanderbilt University, where Barr completed not one, not two, but three majors, in chemical engineering, mathematics and music.
But perhaps no one could have quite predicted how Barr would use that creative, interdisciplinary focus to pioneer an approach to the fabrication of solar cells that would earn him the prestigious $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize as a graduate student.
Barr, who received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2012, was honored recently alongside his fellow prize-winners from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Barr’s latest innovation—an approach to the fabrication of solar cells that could allow them to be printed directly on common materials like paper and textiles—has been hailed as a breakthrough that could lead to widespread adoption of solar power, reducing the cost of solar energy by eliminating the need for specialized installation.
“There is a huge opportunity to harvest energy from the light that hits every surface around us,” Barr said, in a statement. “If we can take that energy and convert it into electricity without compromising the aesthetics of everyday surfaces, that is extremely powerful.”