The Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship: Solar Utilization Network (IGERT-SUN) program is an interdisciplinary PhD training program covering multiple solar energy conversion areas and integrating with policy and social understanding.

The program is designed to educate the next generation of diverse citizen-scientists, innovative thinkers and enlightened policy makers. IGERT-SUN participants will be trained in the fields of photovoltaics, solar-thermal and photosynthesis-driven bioenergy approaches, along with developing an understanding for the social and policy aspects involved in global human energy use. This interdisciplinary training approach, integrating research, education and policy issues, requires a diverse group of students to meet the challenges of a complex global energy system.

ASU’s goal is to increase diversity in research by recruiting and attracting more underrepresented students into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs such as the IGERT-SUN.

Program goals

Educating the next generation of leaders in guiding society toward a solar-based, sustainable energy future requires that future scientists can seamlessly navigate a very transdisciplinary field. Thus, the overall goal of the IGERT-SUN program is to train doctoral students who can see beyond the boundaries of traditional methodologies and disciplinary viewpoints, and who can integrate scientific excellence with societal and policy insights. IGERT-SUN graduate students will also be trained as outstanding scholars skilled in their ability to communicate energy science, technology and policy content.


Program features include a 2-year, $30,000/year traineeship stipend (including summer) with full tuition remission, interdisciplinary training in solar conversion technologies, faculty and senior graduate student mentoring, opportunity for travel experiences in the U.S. and abroad, entrepreneurship training and opportunity for funding of collaborative, applied energy projects. Students receiving IGERT support must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents.


The IGERT-SUN energy concentration program requires completion of the following elements as part of the PhD program requirements:

Year 1

  • Fall Semester Energy Core Course – SOS 598: Solar Utilization Network (3 units), an interdisciplinary renewable energy course focused on the foundational challenges in the four core energy areas – biological conversion, photovoltaics, solar thermal, and sustainability and policy. 
  • Spring Semester Energy Core Course – SOS 598: Energy in Context (3 units), a workshop-based course taught by IGERT-SUN faculty along with invited speakers from the community. Topics will include: commercial and private solar energy generation; sizing of solar energy conversion plants; solar energy storage; solar energy transmission and delivery; economics of production and scale; governing bodies and regulatory agencies; environmental impacts and conservation impacts.
  • Research Rotation – First year students will rotate typically in four research groups involved in solar energy research and focused on a common theme. Rotations are designed to help identify faculty mentors, the student’s committee and potential research projects.
  • Extended Learning Experiences – There are two summer travel experiences that are offered in alternating years and that may be available after the first year in the program. Participation in these programs is based on an application and selection process:
  • The Washington experience is an immersive, two-week long program in conjunction with the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes (CSPO) and focuses on science and technology policy and societal aspects of science and engineering.
  • The Netherlands experience includes work at the Technical University of Delft, where students will participate in a laboratory rotation program including seminars with a focus in photovoltaics, and at Wageningen University, where students will learn about the practicalities of biological solar energy conversion (including photobioreactor design and operation).

Year 2

  • Fall Semester Energy Core Course – SOS 598: Global Energy Issues (3 units), a workshop based course similar to the year 1 spring semester course. Topics will build on those from the spring course and will emphasize a global perspective.
  • Spring Semester – Students will participate in five 1 to 2 day site visits that will provide concrete experience in real-world energy circumstances. Potential sites are: the Navajo Generating Station, Sandia National Laboratory, Salt River Materials and solar power plants near Gila Bend.
  • Entrepreneurship Training – This course is designed to prepare IGERT-SUN students to apply to the IGERT Competitive Innovation Fund, which provides additional funding to students for the development of collaborative, applied projects with other IGERT-SUN trainees. Students will gain basic understanding of entrepreneurship with a focus on business model and value proposition design and customer development.
  • Curricular Options – Additional curricular options delivered in a variety of formats over different timelines are available to students to help crystallize their understanding of the end-to-end ramifications of energy research including: a Responsible Conduct in Research course, Energy Outreach through GlobalResolve, CSPO and CNS-ASU programs. Programs focus on integration of educational, social and policy issues with science and technology, and a K-12 science instruction program for those interested in a career in education.

 Year 3

  • Competitive Innovation Projects – Funded by the IGERT-SUN Competitive Innovation Fund, these are collaborative, applied projects that build on the dissertation projects of multiple IGERT-SUN students and that could lead to real-world, entrepreneurial applications and initiatives. Funds could be used for pilot studies, scalable prototypes, provisional patent filings or other types of activities required to move the project towards realization. Projects funded through the Competitive Innovation Fund are for one year with additional funding possible for particularly promising projects that need more time and funding for further development and potential commercialization.

All Years

  • Informal Learning Opportunities – participate in and help coordinate a weekly, 1-hour seminar. This will entail a formal seminar every other week and a journal club (discussing papers and other materials of interest) in alternating weeks.

Application process

The last cohort of IGERT-SUN students was accepted for the 2015-16 academic year. We are not accepting any new applications at this time.


Wim Vermaas
Foundation Professor
IGERT-SUN Program Director
Anna Keilty
Program Manager

* IGERT-SUN is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.