15 november 2012

Oxford scientist to study solar energy harvest

Science

Feliciano Giustino, Leverhulme Research Leadership Award winner
Feliciano Giustino

Research into how solar cells inspired by natural photosynthesis harvest the Sun's energy has been given a boost.

Dr Feliciano Giustino of Oxford University's Department of Materials has received a Leverhulme Research Leadership Award worth around £900,000 to explore how 'biomimetic' solar cells – those that mimic natural systems – turn light into electricity at the atomic scale. 

Amongst the many photovoltaic technologies currently being developed biomimetic solar cells are especially appealing as they offer the promise of converting sunlight into energy without relying on scarce, often toxic, materials.

The Leverhulme Trust awards only a handful of Research Leadership grants once every few years, and Higher Education Institutions are only allowed to nominate one candidate across all disciplines. Dr Giustino will use the grant from the Leverhulme Trust to build computer models of biomimetic photovoltaic devices as part of a project nicknamed 'ELYSIA', after the photosynthetic sea slug elysia chlorotica.

Dr Giustino said: 'I would like to use the Leverhulme award in order to fill the gap between the fundamental science and the technological applications of bio-inspired photovoltaics. Given its far-reaching societal implications, solar energy research calls for a multifaceted approach where we ask ourselves two questions at once: what are the fundamental mechanisms of biomimetic light harvesting, and how can we use them to harness energy.'

Feliciano Giustino is a University Lecturer in the Department of Materials at the University of Oxford and the Co-Director of the Materials Modelling Laboratory, and a Governing Body Fellow of Wolfson College. He holds a PhD in Physics from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, and before moving to Oxford in 2008 he was a researcher in the Department of Physics at the University of California at Berkeley. His work focuses on the development and use of computational methods based on quantum mechanics for modelling the structural, electronic, and optical properties of solar energy materials at the atomic scale.

The Leverhulme Trust was established in 1925 under the Will of the first Viscount Leverhulme. It is one of the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK, distributing funds of some £60m every year.