A NEW UNIVERSITY, A NEW HOME
UC Merced’s early leaders recruited some of the brightest stars in their disciplines to lay the foundation for academic and research efforts.
“Roland was the most distinguished of all the initial professors who joined the campus in its early days, bringing an air of academic legitimacy to UC’s fledgling campus,” said former vice-chancellor research professor Sam Traina. . “Roland’s research in the field of solar energy has positioned the campus as a world leader in creating environmentally sustainable infrastructure, embedding this direction in the DNA of the campus. This emphasis has now extended to many areas of the university. He had a huge impact on UC Merced.
Winston said he was drawn to UC Merced by the opportunity to work with the founding faculty, and like all campus founders, he has played many roles, including serving on committees and chairing the Faculty Senate. at one point. He and his colleagues have helped deans plan academic programs and recruit future faculty, with an emphasis on building interdisciplinary research teams.
At the time, he said his goal was to help establish an “absolutely world-class academic program” in renewable energy.
One of his proudest accomplishments, he said, was helping recruit “superb, world-class solar scientist Sarah Kurtz,” who worked at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory for decades. many years. She researches energy storage and evaluates systems to improve efficiency and feasibility.
Winston was affiliated with both schools of natural sciences and engineering and started the California Advanced Solar Technologies Institute, or UC Solar, a nine-campus collaboration that twice received the highly competitive UC Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives awards from the Office of the President.
“When we were just opening, Roland gave us instant credibility in solar energy research,” said founding professor Professor Tom Harmon. “As we grew, he was always a great colleague, freely sharing his knowledge and expertise.”
Materials Science, Professor Viney agreed.
“Roland was often the last person to speak in a discussion, but his few words captured the essence of what mattered and what needed to be done. He never let gravitas get in the way of the action. He threw his mental and physical energy in the myriad details of the construction of this institution, before a recognizable campus even existed,” Viney said. “Whether it’s the foundation of solar energy research at UC Merced, from planning an innovative curriculum for science and engineering, to developing outreach activities, to promoting shared governance, or simply attending ceremonies, it was widely engaged in all aspects of the emerging soul of UC Merced.
THE SUNNY FUTURE
Imaging-free optics formed the basis of solar concentration research in the UC Solar Laboratory. Projects being developed there include low-cost, zero-tracking solar thermal collectors that reach temperatures in excess of 200 degrees Celsius; followed by hybrid systems that achieve both high electrical power and improved thermal performance; heating, cooling and desalination inventions; and even a solar-powered drum dryer that grinds food production waste into a fine, lightweight powder.
Many students have passed through the UC Solar lab. Some, however, stayed and were hired as postdocs and lab leaders. Now that UC Solar’s UC funding has run out, some of these alumni form the core team of Merced-based Winston Cone Optics, founded in 2012.
For example, Vice President of Business Development Lun Jiang studied environmental systems as a graduate student at UC Merced. He was a research scientist at UC Solar and holds two patents for solar thermal technology. He worked with Winston for nine years and is now an expert in the External Compound Parabolic Concentrator (XCPC), a device used in applications ranging from heating and cooling to water desalination and power generation.
CTO Bennett Widyolar studied environmental engineering, mechanical engineering, and environmental systems as an undergraduate and graduate student at UC Merced. He has also been with Winston for nine years and has been entrusted with the installation of XCPC demonstration arrays in places like Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. Research and Development Engineer Yogesh Bhusal has completed his Masters and Ph.D. mechanical engineering degrees under Winston.
UC Solar and Winston Cone Optics are so close that the company hired former executive assistant Robyn Lukens as chief financial officer, and recently added the former Jordyn Brinkley to the staff.
Many UC Solar projects have also been integrated with Winston Cone Optics.
“We currently have a grant from the California Energy Commission to build the next generation of our traditional XCPC,” Widyolar said. “We patented it through UC and we license it… We’re trying to reduce costs and simplify packaging and shipping. I’m very good. We are working with Sarah Kurtz and her graduate students and they are testing our first prototypes.
“It’s all going to culminate in a 500 square meter facility in an industrial food processing plant in California. It’s going to be our big step into commercial space. We’re finally getting out of the lab.
A few other projects currently underway:
- A low-carbon water heater installation for a commercial dairy in the area to sterilize milking machines, replacing the propane normally used to heat water.
- A desalination project for the Ministry of Energy. The project passed three rounds of evaluation with the DOE and won three awards for US-made solar desalination structures. The next stage is the design phase which will include the design of a complete solar thermal desalination plant, including obtaining permits, so that “if they give us the funds, we could build it the next day”, Widyolar said.
Winston said that while he will be retiring from the university, his company will continue to work with researchers on campus.
Expecting it to slow down is futile. Until the pandemic, he still traveled abroad to speak at conferences and work on projects.
Although he lost his wife, Pat, more than 60 years ago, he has two sons and two grandchildren to spend time with. He also has a second home in Wisconsin, which he visits in the summer.
But to finally take it easy and relax by the lake?
“It’s just for the holidays,” he said with a smile.