Solar cell project success reflected in student engineering award

A student at the University of Southampton’s School of Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) has won the title of Best Electronic Engineering Student in Europe.

Steffi Sesuraj (pictured), who graduated with First Class Honours in July, won the ARM Award for Best Electronic Engineering Student, one of the prestigious European SET (Science, Engineering and Technology) Student of the Year Awards 2010, which was presented on Friday 3 September at the London Hilton, Park Lane.

Steffi was nominated by her supervisor, Professor Darren Bagnall, of the Nano Research Group in ECS, on the basis of her excellent performance on the BEng Electronic Engineering course, but especially for her third-year project on the development of more efficient solar cells: ‘Design, Fabrication and Characterisation of a Nano-Plasmonic back reflector for a-Si Thin Film Solar Cells’.

According to Professor Bagnall, Steffi’s experimental work has demonstrated for the first time that plasmonic arrays of metal nanoparticles can be used to significantly improve the performance of solar cells.

"Researchers have been attracted to the idea of using metal nanoparticles to provide ‘plasmonic solar cells’ for around six years," says Professor Bagnall. "Now, as a result of Steffi’s detailed and innovative work we are now much better placed to demonstrating working plasmonic solar cells. This is a considerable achievement since it has provided a new method for how the cells should be constructed."

Steffi will now continue and develop this project in her doctoral research, using the advanced technology in Southampton Nanofabrication Centre. Her aim will be to use nanotechnology to engineer a design for thinner and therefore more cost-effective solar cells that maintain high efficiency.

"Working on developing a Nano-Plasmonic Back Reflector was definitely an exciting venture for me,” says Steffi. “The field of plasmonic application for solar cells has demonstrated that nanotechnology is no more a ‘thing of the future’– it has the potential to be implemented in the present, on a large-scale basis.

"This project was a wonderful opportunity to work with the ECS Nano Research Group. Its members are very talented and friendly and made me feel part of the Group.

"I definitely got a lot out of the project in terms of scientific knowledge and research skills. The enthusiasm which I’ve developed for plasmonics applications and nanotechnology in general has motivated me to continue with a PhD in this area, at the Nano Group, under Professor Darren Bagnall and my co-supervisor Dr. Harold Chong.

"I’ve constantly been on the move in my life, from India to the Netherlands and now Southampton. I feel at home in this University and look forward to another four exciting and fruitful years of research."

The SET European Awards were presented at a ceremony before an audience comprising of hundreds of technology students, academics, senior industry executives; as well as senior figures from government, scientific and technical institutions and the media, on Friday 3 September at the London Hilton, Park Lane.

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