What is my PhD about?

So I left my introductory blog post with a cliffhanger. Now the million dollar question is what am I doing my PhD in?

Before I delve into that, I’d like to dig slightly deeper into my interests and bring them to the surface. So to start, I’m an individual who does not have a passion for much and I possess the attention span of a goldfish. No, I think even the goldfish probably has an even longer attention span. Congratulations Mr. goldfish. Ever since I was a young boy, very little things have peaked my interest. Yawning followed by ‘cool story bro’ was a typical response you’d get from me every time I was presented with something new and ‘fascinating’. You know that teacher who used to ask you what you wanted to be when you grew up? Well I’m 25 years old and to this day I’m still bewildered by that question. However something that I’ve always been in awe of is the Sun and the power that it possesses. To think that this giant orange/yellow orb of light, as we see it looking all high and mighty in the sky, is the essence of life on Earth and provides us with the nourishment that we need to survive and grow. But are we really taking full advantage of what the Sun really has to offer?

We live in an age where energy consumption is at an all time highest on a global scale and as the world’s oil reserves are being used up at a rapid scale, alternative energy sources are being sought i.e. Renewable energy. One particular form of renewable energy, solar energy, has been of interest in the past decade or so due to the massive price reductions and technological advancements made in Photovoltaic (abbreviated as PV) cells or more commonly known as solar cells.

So what are solar cells? Solar cells are essentially devices that convert sunlight into electricity. I will elaborate more on this in future posts but when I first heard about solar cells, my mind was completely blown away by it and I instantly developed a genuine passion for it. I was hungry for more knowledge in the field of solar cells. As I read more and more about it, I realised that this is something I wanted to base my career around. I couldn’t go back to working a dead end 9-5 (or 8-4 in some instances) job where I was losing a couple of brain cells by the hour as I had my eyes glued to the clock. I wanted to do something no one has ever done before. I wanted to reinvent the wheel. So what did I Do? I applied for a PhD based on solar cells.

Now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t just wake up one day and think to myself ‘Hey, you know what? I feel like doing a PhD!’ like it was some sort of take away dinner. Some thought process went into it but at the same time I’m the type of person who just goes with the flow and see where life takes me. I’ll take any opportunity I can get without really thinking about the commitment aspect of it. And low and behold, here I am doing a PhD.

Okay, before I continue to ramble on about my ‘live for the moment’ philosophy and going off on random tangents, I think it’s important to give you guys a brief bit of context so that you understand how my PhD fits into the grand scheme of things. So I would like for you to make yourself a cup of coffee because I’m about to bore you till your mind goes numb and that cup of coffee will be your one saving grace.

So there are 3 types or ‘generations’ of solar cells that currently exist in the PV world. The 1st generation of solar cells consists of solar cells made out of crystalline silicon wafers which accounts for about 91% of the PV market. The 2nd generation consists of thin film solar cells which accounts for about 9% of the market. Last but not least the 3rd generation of solar cells consists of cells made out of organics materials such as polymers. Okay, to briefly touch on the 2nd generation of solar cells, they consist of  depositing one or more thin layers of materials onto a substrate. The thickness of these thin film solar cells can range from a couple nanometres up to 1 micron. Although 2nd generation solar cells have the potential to be extremely efficient, they utilise rare,expensive and highly toxic materials and this is where I step in as the saviour with my PhD…

So my PhD is based on fabricating a solar cell using strictly earth abundant non-toxic materials i.e. Copper Zinc Tin and Sulphur (CZTS). It is a 2nd generation solar cell which comprises of a unique layer of film which is made out of the materials I just mentioned. Without getting super technical about it, these materials possess the optimal properties for a high performance solar cell and my job is to find out how it can be optimised even further. There has been plenty of research conducted on this type of solar cell and some significant advancements have been made in terms of yielding a higher efficiency. I plan on contributing towards that with my super duper important PhD project. So there you have it. That’s my PhD project in a nutshell. Congratulations on making it to the end of this post and I hope to see you in the next.

Peace,

R

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