Baltic-American
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Research Scholar studies solar energy, and shines for the BAFF community

Estonian Research Scholar had no qualms about packing up his wife and newborn on a flight to Las Vegas to pursue his research project at the University of Nevada’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The title of his study was Surface studies of thin films and nanostructures for application in solar cells. Brought under the wing of Professor Clemens Henske, Erki defines the main objective of his research as follows: “In view of the desire to achieve global energy security, the limited supply of fossil fuels and their effects on the environment, solar cells are a promising, clean, and reliable source of electricity. In this project we investigate materials for solar energy conversion devices.” Erki was received by his research team with a very warm and hospitable welcome, with an Estonian flag hung high on the laboratory wall.

Erki attended multiple conference events, including the Material Research Society Spring Meeting & Exhibit, the Advanced Light Source (ALS), as well as numerous Postdoctoral Scholar and Faulty meetings. Beyond working as a researcher, and coming home to be a nurturing father and a husband, Erki volunteered his time to the local science community, which included sharing his expertise as a judge for the local high school science fair, providing mentorship for University students, and accepting and hosting guests to the University lab.

“Personally, I am happy with improvement of my interpersonal skills which I chose to actively and consciously work on during my time as the BAFF scholar. The cognition of other persons’ time and effort, background, motives and ambitions is an asset that also serves professionally. More specifically, career wise and as a delegate of Estonia, I am happy that I have succeeded to bring a very positive image of my home country to the US, and that a friendly link has been established between the two international research groups that hopefully blossoms in another cooperation in the future. Such notions have also been expressed by the host. Both personally, and professionally, I have grown to learn to accept setbacks, and find a positive attitude to move on with the best of scenarios available.”

And who was his greatest role model while here in the US? “Beyond a doubt James Conrad Carter, a PhD student in the group, a colleague, a tutor, and a friend for life. An age mate, an all American twin of myself, and yet the complete opposite, just like the reverse mirror image. A rare find for me both personally, and professionally. A teacher of chemistry, a populizer of science, well-versed in math, a model case of a doctoral student. Born a mixture of native American and Irish blood, able to make a laugh out of himself and make others laugh at themselves. A mastermind who is able to approach the young, the youngest, his seniors, and the elderly. An enthusiast of culture, religion, language, science, human behavior, a connoisseur of food and wine. A master of English vocabulary, a man of thousand trades, and an overly positive citizen. An appreciative person, who takes little for granted. Well-organized, and easygoing at the same time, at any given moment. Takes no shortcuts, or if so, then thought-out ones. One who does not let chance and ignorance triumph, is not afraid to show initiative. As such, he is a vice president of his home owners association, and frequent on Las Vegas city council meetings with public access. Caretaker of a house, his mother, a dog, and a network of friends. Need I say more?”

Finally, Erki’s recommendation for future Fellows: “Say ‘yes’ often, indulge in the unknown. Take the good AND the bad, but learn from either. Remind yourself of your mortality and the blessing of others around you.”