Poetry to the people

#phxfridays attendees can now observe poetry in addition to visual arts
October 3, 2018

ASU English lecturer Rosemarie Dombrowski brings high art down to earth at First Fridays

Just after 6:30 p.m. on a sweltering Friday in September, Arizona State University English lecturer Rosemarie Dombrowski steps through the gate from the dusty gravel parking lot on the corner of Fourth and Roosevelt streets onto the brick patio between Modified Arts gallery and the vacant house next door.

Her arms are loaded with boxes of string lights and she’s followed closely by two eager helpers lugging PA system gear. Sporting her signature oversized shades, Phoenix’s inaugural poet laureate is all effervescence and anxious chatter as she gets to work prepping the space for the evening’s event, projecting some hardcore whimsy in a pair of kitten heels and a tea-length cat-print dress while balancing precariously on the porch ledge to secure one end of the string lights to a post.

Meanwhile, the PA grips have set up a speaker to the right of the porch steps and connected it to the microphone sitting expectantly in its stand at the center of the top step. Soon, verse after lyrical verse will pour into it, course through the wires, out of the speaker and into the ears of literature lovers, curious bystanders and unwittingly spellbound passersby.

This is First Friday Poetry on Roosevelt Row, Dombrowski’s most recent brainchild and an attempt to “make poetry part of the vernacular in Phoenix.”

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Art out in the real world

Poetry, she said, “needs to be present alongside all the other more visible art forms,” such as mural painting, something she observes with delight has taken over the city in recent years.

By piggybacking on the well-established celebration of all things creative that attracts throngs of Valley residents to the Roosevelt Row Arts District on the first Friday of every month, Dombrowski has positioned her cause to reach people who might not otherwise be exposed — or open — to a poetic experience.

What’s more, several of her current and former students participate frequently and have found the event to be a useful outlet for networking, performing and even selling their work.

“It gives my students a kind of understanding of how literature functions in the real world,” said Dombrowski, who teaches in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.

First Friday Poetry on Roosevelt Row began in February when Modified Arts gallery owner Kimber Lanning sought to deter rowdy skaters and make productive use of the patio annex during the monthly arts festival by offering it to Dombrowski for public literary programming.

The theme of the event changes every month: cultural storytelling, a showcase of Downtown Phoenix campus students’ work; readings by female-identifying poets; readings from Iron City Magazine, a journal produced at ASU as part of the university’s Prison Education Program that features the writing of incarcerated individuals; readings from Cardboard House Press, a bilingual poetry publication; and “poetry-on-demand,” in which poets took subject requests from audience members and then typed up impromptu verses for them on a typewriter.

No matter the heat index, it always manages to draw a crowd. “Even when it’s blazing hot, they still keep coming,” Dombrowski said, humbly incredulous.

There are even some regulars. Phoenix resident Marilyn (last name withheld) has been coming for the past four months along with her boyfriend and his young cousins.

“It’s very positive for the community,” she said. “It’s something that can show the kids how to express themselves constructively.”

Jazmin Andrade, one of the cousins who has been coming along with Marilyn and a sophomore at Xavier College Preparatory, said the event intensified her interest in her honors English course and even inspired her to participate in the national Poetry Out Loud recitation competition at her school.

Dombrowski’s dalliance with First Fridays began during the early 2000s, which she recalls fondly as its “heyday.” As she progressed at ASU from an undergrad to a doctoral student to a lecturer, she and her coterie of literary aficionados would head downtown every month and plant a folding table in one of the empty lots along Roosevelt to hawk issues of student lit magazines.

Over the years, she has organized a host of events, including the Phoenix Poetry Series, which highlights the work of two local writers per month, and founded a variety of publications — including Rinky Dink Press, which publishes in poetry in “microzine” format — that bring academic and self-taught writers together in the name of literature.

“It’s home for me,” Dombrowski said of the local writing community. “I’m a street poet. I was reared by street poets in downtown Phoenix.”\

Keeping connected through poetry

The September meeting of First Friday Poetry begins around 7:30 p.m. when Dombrowksi steps up to the microphone to welcome attendees and announce the theme for the evening: the launch of Rinky Dink Press’ fifth poetry series, four-and-a-half-by-three-inch issues of which are on sale throughout the evening for a dollar apiece.

“If you don’t know what a microzine is, go to the merch table and find out,” she teases the crowd with a smile. “That’s why you’re here at First Friday: to get educated!”

The first poem to be read is titled “From the Late Bluebird,” by ASU alum Ian Bodkin. In poems that evolved from text messages, Bodkin describes Arizona’s “red clay roads gone river” and “dry earth turned mud.”

Between each reading, Dombrowski announces First Friday Poetry again to the latest flock of onlookers to form at the edges of the patio before introducing the next poet and reminding everyone to support local poets and buy it if they like it.

Rinky Dink Press, she explains, is her heart. It evolved out of an English course she taught at the Downtown Phoenix campus, and her students, some of whom are now graduated, still contribute artwork and poetry or serve as editors.

One of them, Sophia McGovern, has been with Rinky Dink Press since it grew from a late night “kitchen-table conversation” in Dombrowski’s home. She edits but has also written for the publication and will represent it next March at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference — an enviable position considering AWP’s prestige in the literary world.

Another of Dombrowski’s former students, Tonissa Saul, also an editor for Rinky Dink Press, said, “It’s good to have a local press to help you get to know local writers. It lets you continue your craft and build relationships, even after you’ve left school.”

As the evening winds down, Dombrowski’s energy level does not.

“There are so many people here who are hungry for art,” she said, and it’s clear she’s keen to feed them.

Judging from the number of people who stop in their tracks just outside the patio, looking on in apparent wonder, she may well get her wish.

Top photo: ASU English lecturer and Phoenix's inaugural poet laureate Rosemarie Dombrowski at the Sept. 7, 2018, First Friday Poetry on Roosevelt Row event. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

ASU researcher innovates solar energy technology in space

October 3, 2018

Experts predict that by 2050 we’re going to have global broadband internet satellite networks, in-orbit manufacturing, space tourism, asteroid mining and lunar and Mars bases.

More than a gigawatt of solar energy will be needed to power these activities, or the equivalent of 3.125 million photovoltaic panels. However, because it is currently the most expensive component on a satellite, scientists are looking for ways to make solar energy in space affordable — and to keep solar power systems from degrading so quickly in the extremely harsh environment of space. A gloved hand holds a flexible solar cell in a lab. Arizona State University postdoctoral researcher Stanislau "Stas" Herasimenka's startup company, Regher Solar, is developing a thin solar cell to better withstand the harsh environment of outer space. Photo courtesy of Stanislau Herasimenka Download Full Image

Arizona State University postdoctoral researcher Stanislau “Stas” Herasimenka thinks he has the solution to provide cost-effective and efficient, next-generation solar power for space applications.

Exploring the next big thing in solar

Silicon heterojunction technology uses a low-temperature method to deposit layers of amorphous silicon with a high concentration of atomic hydrogen onto a crystalline silicon wafer. This method creates a solar cell that’s more efficient at converting sunlight into electricity than conventional solar cells, which are manufactured using standard high-temperature methods.

Pioneered in the 1990s, silicon heterojunction technology is not new, but it’s not widely used in the commercial solar energy industry. However, it holds great promise for the future of solar energy.

In conventional solar cells, the current manufacturing efficiency is up to 21.5 percent. Herasimenka believes silicon heterojunction solar cell technology can be manufactured to attain 23 to 24 percent efficiency without increasing the cost of production.

While that would seem to be a small step, it’s actually the next giant leap the solar power industry is looking to achieve. Seeing this as as an opportunity to apply his graduate research, Herasimenka founded solar cell technology startup Regher Solar with solar industry expert Michael Reginevich.

Stuart Bowden, an associate research professor of electrical and energy engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, praised Herasimenka’s work both as a doctoral student and a postdoctoral scholar to create commercial-grade silicon heterojunction solar technology.

“When I came to ASU in 2009, Stas was our first student to complete an experimental thesis, and his passion for solar was critical to kick-start the lab,” said Bowden, Herasimenka’s doctoral research adviser. “He did extensive theoretical modeling work but he was also the one who pushed on making his research commercial. Stas has really embraced the entrepreneurial spirit at ASU and it's great he has the support to take his lab work out into the world.”

Space: The solar frontier

It's very complicated for a novel solar technology to enter the market. The current cost of a commercial solar panel is about 30 cents per watt.

At this point in its development, silicon heterojunction solar cell technology is too expensive for the terrestrial market but may be very attractive to aerospace companies.

The current leading technology of solar energy in space is in the form of tandem solar cells, which are more efficient than terrestrial solar cells (28 to 32 percent efficiency), but they cost orders of magnitude more at $100 to $500 per watt. In comparison, Regher Solar’s silicon heterojunction technology is a great deal at $1 per watt cost even with the loss of about 7 percent efficiency.

Not only is the price right, Herasimenka and his Regher Solar team have ideas in mind to make solar cells that are more resistant to the harsh environment of space that theoretically could also increase their end-of-life efficiency.

Their research caught the attention of Albuquerque, New Mexico-based SolAero Technologies and the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant program, which seeks to fund technology to implement a space transport that could shuttle spacecraft from low Earth orbit to higher orbits. The area through which the transporter would operate is also where radiation is most damaging to spacecraft solar cells.

Thin is in

To address the unique challenges of providing reliable solar energy in space, Herasimenka is testing a hypothesis that Regher Solar can make silicon heterojunction solar cells extremely thin, which adds the benefit of radiation resistance.

Simulations conducted by Alex Fedoseyev — Regher Solar’s chief scientist for a previous NASA SBIR grant-funded project on which the ASU team was a subcontractor — show that when a silicon solar cell is very thin, high-energy protons can go through the solar cell without damaging it.

“In some conditions, it may be practically transparent to high-energy particles,” Herasimenka said. “Besides, in a thin cell, electrons generated by light don’t have to travel as far to be extracted and even if space radiation creates a defect in a solar cell, electrons will have much less chance to recombine through this defect, thus, increasing end-of-life efficiency of a solar cell.”

While typical solar cells are 160 to 180 micrometers thick, Herasimenka and Regher Solar are targeting 50-micrometer or even 10-micrometer-thick solar cells.

Manufacturing thin, easily breakable solar cells requires special equipment that makes production more expensive than 30 cents per watt, but this isn’t a problem for aerospace companies that presently pay 500 times more for a solar cell.

Another feature of Regher Solar’s technology is its very low weight. Because every ounce increases the cost of a space launch, solar cells up to 15 times thinner would reduce space solar energy costs even more.

As part of the SBIR grant project, Regher Solar will work with SolAero Technologies to test solar cells of different thicknesses to find the optimum balance of thinness and durability against radiation.

If Regher Solar can pull it off, the company will be well on its way to helping the space economy meet its power needs.

A quest to impact the solar industry

Herasimenka came to ASU as a doctoral student when Bowden and Christiana Honsberg — now a professor of electrical engineering — joined ASU from the University of Delaware as ASU was beginning to launch its major solar energy initiative in 2009.

In 2011, the Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies, or QESST, was established, with Honsberg as its director, to address the "terawatt challenge" and develop advanced clean energy technologies to help raise the living standards of people around the globe living in energy poverty. It is a collaborative consortium of eight universities, more than 100 students and 30 faculty working with industry to find energy solutions.

“One out of five people in the world live in the dark due to the high cost of electricity," Honsberg said. "QESST is focused on reducing solar costs while simultaneously improving its efficiency to the benefit of over 1 billion people living in the dark. Regher Solar is one of eight QESST spin-out companies making an impact in the market and we’re proud to have helped catalyze its formation.”

Herasimenka conducted his doctoral research at QESST and stayed on as a postdoctoral researcher working on a variety of projects.

He co-founded Regher Solar with the help of QESST’s initiative to encourage and expose its students to innovation mentoring resources at ASU and beyond.

QESST Industry and Innovation Director John Mitchell helped Herasimenka develop his startup pitch and business plan as well as connect him with resources to help make his venture successful.

Mitchell said Herasimenka is “a perfect storm” for QESST and its innovation goals.

“Regher is developing intellectual property, transferring knowledge, bringing technology to the marketplace and giving back to QESST,” Mitchell said. “When we present to the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy we talk about innovation in an abstract way. It's great to be able to show specific and concrete examples such as Regher."

Though being an entrepreneur wasn’t Herasimenka’s original career goal, it has turned into something he very much enjoys.

“Initially the company was founded to go for more (research grant) funding, but then, later on, I became more and more excited about the business world and got more deeply involved," Herasimenka said. "Now I think that’s what I want to do in my life."

Monique Clement

Lead communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering