Researching Renewable Energy
Ian Lightcap, Ph.D., ’03, currently serves as the Research and Facilities Program Director at the Center for Sustainable Energy (ND Energy) at the University of Notre Dame. His research contributions have been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals and attracted attention in popular press. Even Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft Corporation, mentioned his work on “Sun-believable Solar Paint” on GatesNotes.com.
“It was a project I worked on with an undergraduate student [at Notre Dame],” Lightcap explains. “We wanted to create a paintable material that would absorb the light of a solar plate. It was more of a proof of concept than a product.”
Making new discoveries and exploring possibilities is what Lightcap enjoys most. It’s also something that’s affirmed his faith.
“For me, faith and science have never been contradictory. They’ve always been complementary,” Lightcap says. “The intricacy and beauty is always pointing to God … and research produces humility … there are just so many things we are unequipped to measure and understand.”
After graduating from Bethel with degrees in Chemistry and Science Education, Lightcap worked at Hope Rescue Mission and taught high school chemistry at Clay High School in South Bend. But it was a summer research experience that really ignited his passion for research.
“Notre Dame had a Research Experience for Teachers (RET) program … it was a form of professional development to get teachers into research labs over the summer,” Lightcap reflects. “I really enjoyed that experience and thought I would like to teach [at the collegiate level].”
After three summers of RET, Lightcap began working on his Ph.D. at Notre Dame in 2007, focusing on inorganic and analytical chemistry, solar, electron transfer kinetics and materials characterization.
Since 2012, he has worked at the Center for Sustainable Energy, serving as Senior Scientist, Director of the Materials Characterization Facility, and since 2015, as Research and Facilities Program Director
“Right now, my job is to help researchers at Notre Dame advance their research. A key part of that is taking good measurements,” he explains.
Lightcap is also responsible for ensuring all of the 26 instruments are running, calibrated and ready to use.
A few years ago, Lightcap was recognized with a Presidential Award in Excellence at Notre Dame (just five are given each year). But he says it’s his interactions and how he treats people that are his greatest achievement.
“Every day, when I come into work, I think of how to help people and how to interact with people,” he says.
Lightcap will serve as Bethel’s 72nd Commencement speaker on May 4, 2019, focusing his speech on science and unity.
Outside the lab, Lightcap enjoys spending time with his family. His wife Joy (Laurent) ‘04 is also a Bethel graduate, and together they have four children – Liv, Noel, Ben and Juniper.