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Dane Christie

College: Hostos Community College
Awards: National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, 2013

Looking at the Light

There’s a long way between a pitcher’s mound in the Dominican Republic and a research lab at Princeton University, but Dane Christie is traveling it as smoothly as the balls he once hurled for a Toronto Bluejays minor league team.

And, thanks to a $126,000 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship awarded in 2013, Christie is ahead in the count toward a doctorate in chemical engineering. The scholarship is the most prestigious award for graduate students in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.

Growing up on the island of Jamaica, Christie (Hostos Community College, A.S. in chemical engineering, 2011; City College 2013, B.E. in chemical engineering) played cricket. He didn't know about baseball until a Dominican neighbor filled him in, and then he decided to give it a try.

After the Bluejays signed him, “my mom told me I needed to think about college, but that was the farthest thing from my mind. I was a 6-foot, 7-inch left hander.”

He played for the Bluejays’ Dominican Republic farm team for two years, until it released him.

He came to New York, where his mother was living, worked in construction for four years and found his way to the Hostos-City College dual-degree engineering program.

Hostos assistant professor Yoel Rodriguez, who teaches chemistry and physics, “told me I had an aptitude for science and should be looking to go to grad school. He gave me the push and the belief in myself I was lacking at the time.”

At City, he found new mentors in professor John Lombardi and associate professor Ilona Kretzschmar. Kretzschmar, with whom Christie researched colloidal assembly, says Christie devised his NSF proposal “after careful study of the Princeton website and the research of the professors he found there. I just offered guidance in figuring out how to ask an interesting scientific question.”

His NSF proposal evolved from his current research into improving the efficiency of organic solar (photovoltaic) cells, which generate electricity from sunlight. His current focus is on dye-sensitized solar cells, which marry a layer of an organic dye to a layer of an inorganic semiconductor. These cells are expensive, their production involves toxic solvents and, partly due to a poorly ordered organic layer, their maximum efficiency is about 12 percent.

In his NSF proposal, Christie suggests researching the purely organic bulk-heterojunction solar cell.

“I proposed an experimental protocol allowing you to fabricate a well ordered active layer, which would boost efficiency,” Christie says.

That could lead to better, cheaper and more environmentally friendly solar panels. This approach could be applied to other technologies, including LED lights and batteries.

Christie married Ashley Christie, whom he met when she was a student at Baruch. She transferred to City College when he did and this year earns her bachelor’s degree in psychology. She is heading into New York University’s master’s in social work program.

“I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish as an undergrad,” he says. “I came with the intention of doing well enough to have options for grad school. Based on work inside the classroom and in research labs, that all put me in a position where I had a competitive graduate application package, and I’m really happy about that.”