Wow. $25k scholarship doesn’t seem like much if this invention helps revolutionize energy efficiency for all humankind. Dang. How about at least giving him a MacArthur Fellowship?

Recognizing his interest in science, math and engineering, Yuan’s science teacher encouraged him to tackle a challenging engineering project for the Northwest Science Expo after introducing him to nanotechnology and renewable energy research.

“We learned about some great energy and environmental issues,” Yuan said. “To try to help, I researched the application of nanotechnology and renewable energy.

“I felt they would best complement my background knowledge and experience. After extensive research and community outreach, I wanted to work on a project to find a solution for some of the problems of the world.”

Yuan decided to focus his project on finding the most efficient way to harness the sun’s energy.

“I felt solar energy had large potential but it was underused,” he explained. “Fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas are only finite and are slated to run out by 2050.

“We need to make solar energy more cost effective and efficient.”

With that thought in mind, Yuan got to work.

“Current solar cells are flat and can only absorb visible light,” he said. “I came up with an innovative solar cell that absorbs both visible and UV light. My project focused on finding the optimum solar cell to further increase the light absorption and efficiency and design a nanotube for light-electricity conversion efficiency.”

Yuan invested countless hours in his research, seeking out new resources in the field to find a workable real-world solution.

“He has worked very hard in the past couple years,” his father Gang Yuan said. “We’re grateful that he had great mentors and teachers to guide him.

“When he started on his research, he had great curiosity and wanted to dig into it more. As his parents, we looked for experiences to help him.”

Watching his dedication impressed William’s parents.

“This generation’s sense of urgency is much stronger than my generation’s,” his father said. “They are thinking about the future and want to know how environmental issues will impact their generation.”