Kylie Catchpole is Research Fellow at the ANU Research School of Engineering. She describes the aim of her research very simply, as "better, cheaper solar power".
"My research is basically about putting tiny particles of silver on the top of solar cells to make the cells work better. Even the most efficient solar cells today reflect some light, so energy is lost. These particles act as antennas to transmit the light directly inside the cell.
"This improves the capture of light and increases the amount of energy the cell can produce. Depending on the cell design, we can produce up to double the electrical current."
Importantly, Kylie's research can be used on thin solar cells. Although thin cells are much cheaper than conventional cells because they use less silicon, they are also much less efficient. "The silver 'antennas' allow thin cells to trap more light, making them much more efficient," says Kylie. "This improvement in efficiency and decrease in cost could help make solar power more competitive with fossil fuels."
Kylie has an undergraduate physics degree from the ANU, winning a University Medal, and a PhD from the ANU as well. She was a Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of New South Wales and the FOM Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics in Amsterdam.
Kylie says, "I was always interested in science - physics in particular - and I was also interested in environmental issues. Solar cells seemed the perfect combination."
Her beginning in physics gave Kylie some new ideas and insights into the science of solar cells, which has supported her breakthrough developments. From her physics background Kylie brought her understanding of plasmonics to the study of solar cells. Plasmons are density waves of electrons, created when light hits the surface of a metal under precise circumstances. The tiny nanoparticles Kylie places on the top of silicon cells produce the plasmons which direct light into the cells, which is the antenna effect she describes. Kylie is an Australian Research Council Research Fellow and she currently leads the nanostructures for photovoltaics group at the ANU Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems.
In 2010, Kylie's work on nanophotonic light trapping was listed as one of MIT Technology Review's '10 most important emerging technologies'. In 2011 she was an episode winner on ABC television's 'New Inventors'. Her work has been featured in the news sections of Science magazine and The Economist, and she has published over 60 papers, which have been cited over 1000 times to date.
Outside the university Kylie enjoys spending time with her family, and getting out into the many bush areas in and around Canberra.