Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies

Scientists and engineers working together for a sustainable future

Tagged: Materials

European Materials Research Society Spring Meeting - Two years on!

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

The following blog is written by Suzy Wallace.


 

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend the European Materials Research Society (E-MRS) Spring Meeting twice now during my PhD. The first time I presented at this meeting was during my first year (after completing our first MRes project) and the second time was between May 22 and 26 this year, which is the third year of my PhD. So, what’s changed between now and then besides the orientation of the sign?

Well it turns out that quite a lot has happened in my field of solar cell research, in terms of the understanding of solar cell materials I was already familiar with (and their current shortcomings preventing them from being on top of all our roofs already!) and new materials altogether that are emerging as contenders for new, efficient solar cell technologies. There was even a talk on using atomicly thin solar cells in outer space, beaming the electricity back to Earth via microwaves, which overcomes the issue of storing energy generated from sunlight when it’s dark on Earth. I assume the devices would be thin enough to be semi-transparent since I personally would feel a bit grumpy being in the shade for weeks or months if I lived directly below! The big plenary session in the middle of the conference highlighted various hot topics in the broader field of materials research including developing sensors for ‘electronic noses’ and thin layers of materials that are so sensitive to changes in humidity that they could potentially be used for ‘touchless’ as opposed to ‘touchscreen’ phones due to the humidity in our fingers. Some of the research into electronic noses is inspired by this guy below and his massive antennae:

 

So clearly the science has changed in two years, which isn’t altogether surprising given how rapidly changing a field science is in general; but what else has changed? The venue was different this year, with the conference being held in Strasbourg from now on (as opposed to Lille). Strasbourg was a lovely city, I’d go so far as to say unnecessarily pretty, it was showing off really. It’s also a nice city for a conference since it was pretty small so you could easily see most of it in a short space of time. The conference social was quite like the one in Lille, although this time the dancing also involved a giant horn, presumably this is something associated with Strasbourg but not Lille, unless it’s just another recent trend, like electronic noses?

 

Then I suppose the last thing to comment on that has changed between EMRS 2015 and 2017 is myself! I’m not shorter (despite appearances in the two photos with the EMRS signs), but I found the experience of the conference different this time around. Firstly, I felt less nervous presenting this time, as 2015 was the first time I’d presented at a conference. EMRS 2015 had been my favourite conference so far in terms of the scientific content and 2017 did not disappoint. However, I think what I gained from attending the various talks was different this time around. I found that a lot more of the concepts were more familiar, but the main difference I noticed (as someone whose research is based on a computer with simulations as opposed to in a lab), was that I felt a lot more familiar with presentations on various experimental studies this time around. I largely attribute this to the ‘wild card’ second MRes project you get to do during your first year (which I hadn’t done before I attended the EMRS in 2015), where I got to get some hands-on experimental experience and very much benefited from working with fellow CDT solar cell researchers Oli Weber, Mako Ng as well as Professors Mark Weller and Chris Bowen at the University of Bath. So, overall, I’d have to say attending the EMRS Spring Meeting again has left me feeling very grateful for the diverse experience I got during the first year of my PhD. At the time, I must admit I felt like a bit of a fish out of water in the labs, but I’m very glad for that experience now!


Suzy is working towards her PhD on 'Overcoming the efficiency bottleneck of metal sulfide solar cells' with Professor Aron Walsh, Professor Chris Bowen and Professor Mark Weller.

 

Boston Materials Research Society Conference

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

Oli Weber (Cohort '13) and Dan Davies (Cohort '14) recently attended the Boston MRS Fall Meeting 2016. This post was jointly written about their experience.


The CSCT was well represented at the Boston MRS Fall Meeting 2016, with myself, Dan Davies, Jemma Rowlandson (previously Cohort ’13, now University of Bristol) and alumnus Dr Adam Jackson (Cohort ’11, now UCL) in attendance. A major international conference can be an overwhelming experience, especially when it spans, conceptually, the whole of materials science and physically, an entire conference venue and the hotel next door. Much of the week was spent dashing between seminar rooms, trying simultaneously to catch the best talks while working off the effects of overlarge food portion sizes.

I embodied an academic stereotype by writing my presentation on the flight on the way to the conference, having being told at the last minute that my poster abstract could be swapped for a talk. I gave my talk on the first day of the conference in symposium ES3: Perovskite Solar Cell Research from Material Properties to Photovoltaic Function. I spent a fair amount of time in the perovskite session, hearing numerous exciting results, though many of my personal conference highlights came from wandering into seminar rooms with tangential or non-existent links to my own research. I heard Shreyas Shah from Bell Labs speak on interfacing nanomaterials with neural stem cells for neural regeneration, by combining visible light-responsive ion channels and upconversion nanoparticles to transform infrared light transmitted through biological tissue into blue luminescence to achieve optogenetic control of neuronal activity.

Oli takes in the sights

Oli takes in the sights

There were many other great talks, including Yi Cui from Stanford, on thin film silicon photovoltaics, Dan Nocera from Harvard, on complete artificial photosynthetic systems and Yuval Goren on the conservation of clay cuneiform tablets in the Negev desert, which are the oldest written records and provide the only external account of the Trojan war.

Meanwhile, Dan presented a poster in the TC2 symposium on high throughput screening of inorganic materials. The poster sessions at the MRS meetings are always very well attended and quite intense – it can feel like giving a two-hour oral presentation! The work went down pretty well though and it was a great opportunity to discuss it with so many researchers with such a broad variety of interests and backgrounds.

Oli, Jemma and Dr Valeska Ting get a photo during the meeting.

Oli, Jemma and Dr Valeska Ting get a photo during the meeting.

Other than that, Dan spent most of his time in the TC1 and TC2 symposia on computational materials chemistry and materials discovery guided by computation. The work presented in TC2 by curators of the Materials Project, Gerbrand Ceder and Kristin Persson, was particularly interesting as a demonstration of the high-throughput calculations that are now possible with modern supercomputers. On the flip side, the TC1 symposium had some really interesting sessions on machine learning, where it was shown how data-mining and statistical analysis techniques are now being used to predict new materials, thereby avoiding costly quantum mechanical calculations altogether. Anubhav Jain from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab presented some new codes he had developed in order to aid materials scientists who are interested in applying data-mining techniques.

The conference also had some excellent sessions on the ‘Broader Impact’ of materials research. For example, the symposium BI1: Today’s Teaching and Learning in Materials Science – Challenges and Advances, featured some very impressive educational studies on the best approaches for teaching undergraduates and graduates materials science topics. These sessions were ideal for picking up transferable knowledge and tips that could be applied in teaching roles as well as in public engagement activities.

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Oli is studying towards his PhD on 'Optimizing energy harvesting processes in metal halide photovoltaics' with Professor Mark Weller and Professor Chris Bowen.

Dan is currently working on his PhD project: 'Interface engineering for indium-free transparent electronics' with Professor Aron Walsh, Dr Duncan Allsopp and Dr Ben Morgan.

 

Hybrid Organic Photovoltaics Conference, Swansea, 2016

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📥  Comment, Seminars & Conferences

This post was contributed by Oli Weber following his attendance at the Hybrid Organic Photovoltaics Conference (28 June - 1 July 2016).


Recently Dom Ferdani (cohort ’14) and I took a trip to the south coast of Wales to attend the 2016 Hybrid Organic Photovoltaics Conference (HOPV 16). The venue was Swansea’s brand new Bay Campus, a huge new development of university buildings sited right by the beach of Swansea Bay. On the first conference day we were met by serious weather blowing in from the sea, leaving delegates from warmer climes wondering what manner of people could be mad enough to inhabit such a cold, damp land. Bay Campus is also the new home to SPECIFIC, the conference hosts, whose mandate is to span the space between academia and industry to develop materials that turn buildings into power stations using functional coatings. Building integrated photovoltaics (BIPVs) are one of the families of technologies developed at SPECIFIC. These rely on thin, lightweight, flexible designs and manufacturing methods, such as printing, that scale up well. Organic semiconductors, dye sensitised solar cells, CIGS and CZTS are all under research and development, however the technology that has come to dominate the research focus for this conference is hybrid perovskite solar cells.

Dom and Oli in Swansea

Dom and Oli in Swansea

Hybrid perovskites combine the properties of some of the highest quality known semiconductors, such as GaAs, with the solution processability of organic materials. This means that the solar cells could be manufactured at low cost, while still displaying the high efficiency of the best inorganic thin films. Unfortunately the hybrid perovskites are not very chemically stable and are easily attacked and degraded by water. Some of the typical device layers used in perovskite cells may also be contributing to the degradation, so it is still difficult to assess whether these materials will be intrinsically stable, over a 25 year lifetime, if they are properly encapsulated as protection from the environment. It was encouraging to see stability data discussed during the research presentations, particularly in the talk by Professor Mike McGehee of Stanford, whose group is developing semi-transparent perovskite top cells to include directly above standard silicon modules to make a more efficient tandem stack.

Other highlights for me personally were the advanced printing techniques run by SPECIFIC researchers on the day before the conference commenced, when we learnt about the pitfalls that await between laboratory scale work and development of cells suitable for bulk manufacturing at large scale. Professor Laura Herz of Oxford Physics gave an excellent presentation on the amount that can be learnt about charge carrier dynamics within perovskite semiconductors using terahertz photoconductivity and photoluminescence measurements. From the University of Bath, Professor Aron Walsh and Dr Petra Cameron both presented recent research results.

Overshadowing the whole conference was the spectre of Brexit. Many people had learnt the referendum result just before setting out to Swansea. Swansea is one of the areas of the UK that voted to leave despite receiving extensive regeneration funding from the EU; SPECIFIC itself is part EU funded. The research groups present were drawn from diverse international backgrounds and many of the research collaborations, already in progress or spawned during the conference, span the EU and further afield. One thing for certain is that the scientific community will continue to find ways to maintain their international networks and friendships whatever the political landscape. From my point of view (and that of many I spoke to) it’s frankly embarrassing that the referendum campaign was fought, won and lost on the basis of fear, lies and bigotry, drowning out all vestiges of the rational debate scientists thrive on. For a country priding itself on freedom and enterprise, we cannot claim to have a healthy political or media culture.

Sitting on the terrace of the conference hall, the beach ahead of me, it is impossible to ignore the juxtaposition of frenetic scientific activity behind me, as brilliant people from every part of the world work to develop clean energy sources for the future, with the EU and Welsh flags taut in the sea breeze just in front and, visible further along the coast, Port Talbot steelworks, in the news as 4,000 people wait on tenterhooks to hear if their livelihoods will disappear. Swansea is an area already hard hit by disappearing traditional industries, on the sharp end of globalised trade. The referendum vote has already delayed and could wreck buyout bids to retain the steelworks, with 69% of Welsh steel exported to the EU. Projects like SPECIFIC serve a dual purpose, for research and as attempts to sow new seeds of industrial activity for clean technologies for the twenty first century. If and when the UK regains political leadership, it will be up to UK government to prove it can support these activities as well as the EU did, or risk watching top researchers and research, as on display at HOPV, move elsewhere.


Oli is Cohort '13 of the CSCT, studying towards his PhD on "Optimizing energy harvesting processes in metal halide photovoltaics" with Professor Mark Weller and Professor Chris Bowen.

 

Conference report: Materials Research Society Spring Meeting 2014

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

On 21-25th April 2014, DTC student David Miles presented his research at the Materials Research Society (MRS) Spring Meeting held in San Francisco, USA. Attendance of the conference was funded in part due to a successful £750 grant application to the Royal Society of Chemistry. This is his report.

Once a year researchers from across the world descend on San Francisco to hear the latest results in the field of materials science and technology. The MRS Spring Meeting is comprised of 57 parallel symposia over 5 days, covering a huge range of materials research from battery technology to biomaterials. With around 6,000 attendees the conference was an exciting place to share my latest research results as well as see some of the leading academics in my research field.

My oral presentation, titled “Dye-sensitized solar cells using anodized ZnO nanowires”, was presented within the Inorganic and Organic Materials for Dye-Sensitized Solar Cells symposium and was well received by the audience. In addition to hearing about the latest research in the field of solar energy I managed to attend talks on new energy storage technologies and on everyone’s favourite nanomaterial, graphene.

Overall, the conference was a great experience and I came away from it with new research ideas and new connections from institutions around the world. Thanks must be given to the Royal Society of Chemistry Materials Division who generously provided me with a £750 international travel grant to attend this conference.

David is in the second year of his PhD, supervised by Dr Davide Mattia (Chemical Engineering) & Dr Petra Cameron (Chemistry).

 

Conference report: RSC Solid State Group Easter Meeting 2014

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

The RSC Solid State Group Easter Meeting was organised by Professor Aron Walsh (University of Bath) and Dr David Scanlon (UCL) and was held at the Kavli Royal Society International Centre in Chicheley between 14-16 April 2014. This post was contributed by 2nd-year research student Jessica Bristow.

The meeting was attended by both staff and students researching solid-state materials for energy generation, storage and conversion. Over three days multiple topics were addressed including: catalysis, battery technology, photovoltaics, fuel cells and photocatalysis.

One particular personal highlight was the talk by Professor Richard Catlow of UCL who gave a general overview of progress made in the area of solid-state modelling and catalysis. He highlighted the importance of not just trusting published data and that all available computational techniques should be used in cooperatively finding a solution, rather than trusting an individual method.

The meeting also included three excellent talks from Steven Wood, Adam Jackson and Mako Ng, studying in the DTC for Sustainable Chemical Technologies.

Steven spoke about potential materials for sodium ion batteries as an alternative to the current lithium ion batteries. Steven employs molecular mechanics as a means to theoretically predict material properties for a given application.

Adam and Mako both spoke about CZTS, a material composed of copper, zinc, tin and sulphur. CZTS is a popular future photovoltaic material with the potential to be a more sustainable choice for devices to capture the suns energy and convert this to electricity. Adam gave an overview of calculations he has conducted on CZTS, while Mako presented his experimental work synthesising large crystals of the material.

RSC SSG Easter Meeting 2014
  • Steven Wood is supervised by Professor Saiful Islam (Chemistry) and co-supervised by Dr Tim Mays (Chemical Engineering);
  • Adam Jackson is supervised by Professor Aron Walsh (Chemistry) and co-supervised by Professor Laurie Peter (Chemistry) and Dr Darrell Patterson (Chemical Engineering);
  • Mako Ng is supervised by Professor Mark Weller and co-supervised by Professor Aron Walsh and Dr Philip Shields (Electrical & Electronic Engineering);
  • Jessica Bristow is supervised by Professor Aron Walsh and co-supervised by Dr Valeska Ting (Chemical Engineering).

 

Conference report: Materials Research Society Fall Meeting 2013

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

On 1–6 December 2013, DTC student Lee Burton attended the Materials Research Society fall meeting in Boston, USA. He describes the experience for us in this blog post.

As a PhD student I was honoured to be chosen to speak at the largest materials research conference of the calendar year in Boston, USA.

Boston at nightThe fall meeting of the Materials Research Society (MRS) brings together academics from all parts of the world each year. The huge scope of the conference was reflected in the 52 different sessions running simultaneously over a period of 5 days. The conference had an exciting dynamic brought about by countless fields of individual research that are still united by core expertise… if you couldn’t find a way to solve a problem at this meeting, it probably couldn’t be solved! Not only that but with days full of cutting-edge science and evenings packed with charged debate, it would be impossible to leave without some new ideas for future work.

My talk was on work regarding new materials for solar energy applications and is summarised as part of the meeting's blog under the section of ‘Technical Sessions’. I spoke alongside existing collaborators and was even able to pick up a few more along the way, strengthening ties between the CSCT and research centres overseas.

Lee is in the final year of his PhD, supervised by Professor Aron Walsh, Chair of Materials Theory in the Department of Chemistry and co-supervised by Professor Keiran Molloy (Chemistry) and Professor Chris Bowen (Mechanical Engineering).

Several researchers from the CSCT, including a number of DTC students, will be attending the MRS Spring Meeting 2014, which runs next week on the 21–25 April.

Conference report: RSC Solid State Group Christmas Meeting 2013

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📥  Seminars & Conferences

The RSC Solid State Group Christmas Meeting is an annual event which aims to bring together UK researchers from topics across issues relating to solid state materials. Of particular relevance to the DTC is the strong energy contingent of this research, including solar cells, batteries, thermoelectrics and solid oxide fuel cells. The 2013 meeting took place at the University of Bath and several DTC students (including Stephen Wood, Adam Jackson and Jess Bristow) attended.

On 18–19 December the University of Bath played host to the 33rd annual Christmas Meeting of the Royal Society of Chemistry Solid State Chemistry Group. Chaired this year by Professor Mark Weller and organised by a cohort of Bath academics and students, the meeting is traditionally very open and relaxed with a significant student contribution. The meeting also aimed to showcase the breadth and depth of the world class solid state research being conducted across the UK and includes topics covering energy materials, catalysis and solid state synthesis. Being located in Bath this year there was a strong DTC presence, including students supervised by Professors Islam, Walsh and Parker. Also in attendance were representatives from SHARP, one of our industrial partners.

On view was the significant UK contribution to both experimental and computational research of solid state systems. This was typified by the three excellent plenary speakers who covered topics ranging from multiscale modelling of solid oxide fuel cell materials (Professor Graeme Watson, Dublin) through experimental studies of lithium ion batteries (Professor Christian Masquelier, Picardie, France) to unusual phenomena of oxygen in oxide materials (Professor Tony West, Sheffield).

The University of Bath was represented in oral presentations by John Clark (PhD student in Professor Islam’s battery group) who gave a well-received overview of the computational modelling of Li-ion batteries and their application to energy storage. The oral presentations were particularly appropriate to DTC students working in energy materials fields including a selection of talks on thermoelectrics, solid oxide fuel cells and batteries. Solar cell research on the other hand made a significant showing in the poster session meaning there was something for all the DTC students who attended.

Overall the meeting provided an excellent venue for DTC students to discuss current work in solid state research with over 150 researchers from across the UK and beyond. This was particularly useful for students working in energy materials fields. It also allowed several DTC students to get involved with the organisation and running of a conference; a valuable piece of experience for future endeavours.

The RSC Solid State Group Easter Meeting is coming up on 14–16 April.