SONS 2 scientist Dr Saif Haque of Imperial College London, is to receive the Royal Society of Chemistry's Edward Harrison Memorial Prize for his research on developing solar cells based on self-organising organic materials systems.
Haque first became involved with the ESF through its SONS 2 programme and through various networking opportunities. SONS 2 is the second round of the Self-Organised NanoStructures research for which ESF provides support. The programme's main aim is to develop cross-disciplinary research at the interface between chemistry, materials science, nanoscience, physics and electrical engineering. Such a mix of disciplines is facilitating important developments in supramolecular science, the synthesis and control of functional assemblies, macromolecules, branching compounds known as dendrimers, liquid crystals, tailor-made polymers and inorganic nanoparticles, all of which requires input from very disparate fields. The award-winning work being carried out in Haque's laboratory has already led to the development of organised supramolecular assemblies that have a 25% greater efficiency in experimental solar cell technology than conventional approaches using non-supramolecular components, and he is enthusiastic about how support through SONS2 is enabling this research to move forward rapidly.
"The funding from ESF and networking is important as it encourages and enables collaboration between different European research groups," he says. Such networking is also being facilitated by the ESF through its ORGANISOLAR scheme, adds Haque, this scheme is aimed at advancing research into organic photovoltaic materials by bringing together diverse, world-leading groups from across Europe together.
Such cutting edge work, of course, wins awards, and this year Haque receives the Edward Harrison Memorial Prize, a cash award of £500 pounds (about €700) together with a medal. "From a personal viewpoint I am delighted to be receiving this award," he says, "It is great to have your research recognised by such a prestigious award." He adds that, "From a general perspective, the award also serves to highlight solar photovoltaic research, which is becoming an important issue."
Indeed, alternatives to fossil fuel electricity sources are urgently needed, both for mitigation of climate change and future electricity supply. "Photovoltaic solar, the direct conversion of sunlight into electricity, is, "Haque says, "expected to play a significant role in future energy production."
He points out that nanostructured molecular electronic materials are particularly attractive for the development of new and efficient solar cells. However, there is quite some considerable way to go yet, which is why ESF's Self-Organised Hybrid Devices (SOYHD) project of which Haque is principal investigator within the SONS 2 scheme is so important. "A great amount of research and development is required before we can realise the goal of viable solar energy using inexpensive organic materials," Haque says.
"It is widely accepted that a key challenge to the design and development of molecular electronic devices such as solar cells is the ability to control materials structure at nanometre-length scale," Haque explains, "The application of supramolecular self-organising functional materials enables better control of materials structure at the nanometre length-scale." Haque and his colleagues are using a diverse range of skills to surmount these technical obstacles and so allow them to successfully achieve the aims of the SOHYD programme and to mature solar cell technology.
"A key requirement for the successful implementation of such materials in devices is the development of quantitative structure-function property relationships which enable the rational design of supramolecular materials for electronic device applications," he says, "It is also important to obtain a better understanding of the structure and function of such materials in the solid state"
The fact that the emerging technology is working with hybrid - both inorganic and organic semiconducting components together - as opposed to focusing on one or the other could lead to lead to success sooner. "The utilisation of such hybrid materials in molecular devices can, in principle, lead to high-performance devices that exhibit the superior optical and electrical properties of inorganic materials and the functional diversity and flexibility of organic compounds." It is this power and flexibility that means hybrid inorganic-organic devices are currently the subject of keen interest from both academic and industrial communities.