Let there be light, and then let me turn it into energy! Lisa Strover joins Real Scientists!


We are exciLisa Polymerted to welcome our next curator Lisa Strover (@leeza_93) to Real Scientists! Lisa recently started her first Postdoc, working at the Sde Boker campus of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel. She is a materials chemist, and her current research focuses on stability and degradation in thin film solar cells (pretty much her dream research project). She completed her BSc(Hons) (2010) and Ph.D. (2016) in Chemistry within the Polymer Electronics Research Centre at the University of Auckland, with her research focusing on electrically-conductive polymers, and controlled polymerisation techniques.


We asked Lisa our usual set of questions, and here’s what she said:


How did you end up in science? Through a series of misadventures. I majored in Politics and Chemistry during my undergrad degree, with the vague idea of eventually having a career in the field of renewable energy. At the time I wasn’t entirely sure whether I wanted to work on the policy or R&D side of things and wanted to keep my options open. During my degree I became particularly interested in physical chemistry and materials chemistry and so I ended up doing BSc(Hons) in that field. Turns out I enjoyed research, so I took up the opportunity to continue with a PhD.

Why did you choose your current field? My current field of research is thin film solar cells. I chose this field (and was fortunate enough to get a research position!) because of a desire to work with renewable energy, as well as an interest and aptitude for materials chemistry. Like a lot of scientists, my career path hasn’t been the most deliberate – I basically sought out and took up opportunities based on what I found interesting. By the time I got to the end of my undergrad degree, I had a fair idea that working in photovoltaics (solar cells) would be an ideal field to combine my technical interests and my passion for renewable energy.

Tell us about your work! I recently (like six weeks ago ago) started a Postdoc in the Alexandre Yersin Department of Solar Energy and Environmental Physics (YDSEEP) at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. I’m a materials chemist by training, but the work here is relatively interdisciplinary, and I am in the midst of acquiring a lot of new skills and knowledge. My research here is all about thin film solar cells. In particular, my work is focused on investigating stability issues in solar cells based on perovskites, and on polymer:fullerene blends. If you have no idea what those brilliant materials I just mentioned are, stay tuned for my attempt to explain each of them in 140 characters or less!11745572_10155900274475217_4657855012790247131_n (1)

Why should the lay public care about your research? Because materials that can convert light to energy are awesome, obviously! But also because solar energy has enormous potential to sustainably provide for our growing energy demands. The vast majority of commercially-available solar panels are based on crystalline silicon, but this type of material has its limitations. Thin film technologies like the ones I work with are still not competitive with crystalline silicon systems for a variety of reasons, but as challenges are overcome, these alternative materials have the potential to be used in cheaper and more versatile solar panels than those currently available.

Do you have any interesting extracurricular obligations? Until recently, I was heavily involved in organising science communications events. I was co-organiser of Nerd Nite in Auckland for a couple of years. Nerd Nite is a monthly event where researchers, hobbyists, and professionals are invited to speak about their niche interests in a local pub. I was also Melbourne City Co-ordinator for the Pint of Science Festival in 2015 and 2016, which, like Nerd Nite, was held in the pub (I like pubs), but with a specific focus on providing a forum for scientists to speak about their research with the public in a fun and accessible way.

Any interesting hobbies you’d like to share? Crosswords. I’m addicted to crosswords.

How would you describe your ideal day off? My ideal day off is definitely weather dependent. To give some context, I should explain my current living situation, which is kind of unique. My postdoc is based at Midreshet Ben-Gurion, which is a relatively isolated community in the Negev Desert. The Midrasha (Hebrew for “place of learning”) hosts a campus of Ben-Gurion University, as well as residential neighborhoods; an elementary school; a high school which specialises in environmental studies; and the graves of the first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, and his wife Paula Ben-Gurion. There are some stunning hikes in the area, almost literally on my doorstep, which I will definitely take advantage of once the weather cools down a bit. But at the moment it’s the middle of summer here, and the sun is pretty intense during the day, so an ideal day off generally consists of any activity which involves avoiding the heat. Once the sun starts setting, a walk or run around the outskirts of the Midrasha to admire the incredible scenery is probably in order (I will be posting photos), followed by a beer or two at the volunteer-run campus pub.

Please welcome Lisa to Real Scientists!

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