Phillips 66 chemist wins national award for solar work

Chemist picks up American Chemical Society accolade for her work with solar cell technology

Laura Nielsen knows how to light up a room.

Literally.

As a chemist at the Phillips 66 Research Center in Bartlesville, Okla., Nielsen turns solar energy into electricity. For her work in advancing solar cell technology, she won the 2019 National Chemical Technician Award from the American Chemical Society and was honored March 31 at its National Meeting & Expo in Orlando, Fla.

“I’m humbled by this,” Nielsen said. “For me, it’s just really exciting to be developing new technology and to do it with such a collaborative group. I couldn’t have done it without such great teammates.”

The award, which celebrates excellence and professionalism among applied chemical technology professionals, is a testament to Nielsen’s contributions to the Organic Photovoltaics Group. It also highlights the caliber of talent behind the cutting-edge work and value being created at the PRC. Phillips 66 has emerged as a global leader in solar cell technology through the development of proprietary state-of-the-art polymers and interfacial layers.

Now in her sixth year with the OPV Group, Nielsen designs and synthesizes the polymers used in solar cells, the components that absorb energy from the sun and create the charges that generate electricity.

Nielsen, whose husband, Dan, is director of Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry at the PRC, became a finalist for the national award after winning ACS regional honors in October along with CPChem colleagues Jared Barr and Tony Crain.

The honor is well deserved, said Brian Worfolk, who leads the OPV team and describes Nielsen as “an amazing chemist.”

“She is passionate about her work,” Worfolk said. “She is constantly solving highly technical problems. Her work has been critical to the OPV program.” The proof is in the invention records, patents and technical papers bearing Nielsen’s name.

Nielsen and the OPV Group have set world records for power conversion efficiency in recent years. The goal is to scale the sustainable technology and make it accessible and affordable for the consumer.

“Developing solar technology gives us a chance to capture more of the electricity generation market, which we are not currently capturing,” Nielsen said. “If we can do this cheaply and efficiently, this could be very advantageous to the company.”

Talk about a bright future.