Surge of Students Seeking Science Studies

Is it the impending doom of global warming? The popularity of President Obama? The advent of environmentalism? The enormity of the global economic crisis? More likely, experts say, it’s a confluence of all these events that has prompted what they call a “surge” of students toward “clean energy” careers. The rush of our best and brightest into science and engineering studies is being compared to the late 1950s, when the Russian Sputnik satellite prompted a similar swelling of those ranks, according to the Los Angeles Times (http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-energy-students29-2009mar29,3,2984851.story).

No doubt many of these students would have opted for lucrative business school degrees and Wall Street jobs just a few years ago. But the Obama administration is banking on the idea that federal aid included in the stimulus package will help stoke the interest in innovative clean energy concepts. The package includes $20 billion to support basic science research, according to the Times.

While this doesn’t precisely translate into a boost for smallcap stocks, it does prompt a look at some innovative small companies in various clean energy fields. Two unique solar energy companies are Marlboro, MA-based Evergreen Solar (Nasdaq:ESLR, http://www.evergreensolar.com), a pure solar play known for its “string ribbon” technology using thin strips of multi-crystalline silicon that is cut into wafers that make up solar panels. Or Littleton, CO-based Ascent Solar Technologies (Nasdaq: ASTI, http://www.ascentsolar.com), a maker of thin film, flexible solar modules.

An interesting battery maker is New Castle, PA-based Axion Power International* (EBB: AXPW, http://www.axionpower.com), which has developed an advanced version of the traditional lead acid battery the company believes can play an important role in the burgeoning electric and hybrid car markets. Details on Axion’s PbC battery technology was recently covered in The Economist (http://www.economist.com/science/tq/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13174459). Another smallcap is Tampa, FLA-based UTEK Corp.* (Amex: UTK, http://www.utekcorp.com), a consulting firm that tracks innovations around the globe for a variety of high-profile clients and a leader in the modern “open innovation” movement.

*client of Allen & Caron, publisher of this blog

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