Adapting technology that has become the standard in the automotive, aerospace and air-conditioning industries, Professor Gerardo Diaz has designed and is testing the next generation of solar-collecting units at UC Merced.
“We’re getting about 10 percent increase in efficiency,” said Diaz, who is with the School of Engineering and co-director of UC Solar.
With funding from the California Energy Commission, Diaz, three undergraduates and one graduate student built a solar water heater.
Instead of having water flow through copper pipes attached to a flat plate with a collective coating applied to it, this solar water-heating system uses flat minichannels, or tubes, made of aluminum with the coating applied directly to the tubes.
The flat tubes placed next to each other become one big solar collector, drawing the sun’s energy directly to the fluid that passes through hundreds of tiny channels.
Copper is typically twice as effective at conducting heat as aluminum, but Diaz said his aluminum minichannel configuration is outperforming standard copper flat-plate designs in delivering warmed water to a collecting tank, even on cloudy days.
And that’s just using a set of minichannel pieces that a large aluminum company had available, along with a cheap solar-collection coating applied to the tubes.
Being able to make the minichannel panels out of copper with a higher-quality coating would increase efficiency even more, Diaz said, though they would have to be mass produced to be cost efficient.
His research and invention are one more way UC Merced researchers are using what is abundant in the San Joaquin Valley – in this case, sunshine – to deliver what could become game-changing technology.
Connection remains strong for bioengineering grad
It has been four years since Mike Oliveira earned his bachelor’s degree in bioengineering at UC Merced, but the campus still feels like home to him.
Now pursuing a doctorate at the University of California at Riverside, Oliveira watched last year as his younger brother Paul received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at his alma mater.
Despite the 300 miles between the campuses, Oliveira stays connected to the Bobcat grapevine via an inside source.
“My dad, Louie Oliveira, keeps me plenty informed on campus happenings,” Oliveira said.
The elder Oliveira is a superintendent with UC Merced’s facilities management department.
About a third of UC Merced undergraduates come from Merced and neighboring San Joaquin Valley counties. Having family in the area means that Mike Oliveira’s ties to the area will remain strong.
During his undergrad days, his local connections helped him play a leading role in building the campus culture, Oliveira said. With friend Ben Goodhue, he founded the UC Merced Club Baseball Team – one of the first campus sports teams to bring home a win for the university. He also helped establish a campus chapter of the Biomedical Engineering Society.
Today, he stays connected as a board member of the university’s alumni association. UC Merced’s emphasis on mentoring gave Oliveira a boost that motivates him to give back.
Applying for and receiving a University of California Leadership Excellence Through Advanced Degrees fellowship led to research opportunities that were “hands-down the reason” he’s now pursuing his doctorate at UC Riverside, Oliveira said.
At UC Riverside, Oliveira remains a pioneer. He’s helping found a chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science.
Oliveira’s doctorate work involves using laser light to image biological tissue. Called optical coherence tomography, the method can assemble pictures of the brain and other tissue with greater resolution than ever before.
With its promise of advances in understanding neurological and other disorders of the human body, OCTthe is being greeted with excitement among medical researchers.