Solar technology and other great leaps

Dr Frederick Ochanda's Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Fellowship brings hope of a significant breakthrough in harnessing the sun's energy.

Dr Frederick Ochanda
Dr Frederick Ochanda

Ask Dr Frederick Ochanda what brought him to Australia and he flashes a grin and says he had always wanted to see kangaroos after reading about them in the history books in his home country of Kenya.

He then quickly puts on his "but seriously" face and it's giant leaps in solar cell technology that are the real reason he has brought his science and his family to Australia.

Working with Associate Professor Matthew Barnett, Dr Ochanda is looking to see if the introduction of particular nanometals to solar cells will improve their efficiency.

"The core story is combining nanofibres with nanoparticles in a clever way," Associate Professor Barnett said.

"There is a very high probability that those nanoparticles enhance the efficiency of solar cells."

Dr Ochanda comes to Deakin from the United States, where he was working in New York on his first postdoctoral project.

He saw the advertisement for the inaugural Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Fellowships last year and applied.

"It was a big opportunity to come and do some work that is very interesting to me," Dr Ochanda, a chemist, said.

"Alternative energy, especially solar energy, is a really hot topic at the moment."

The last of the Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Fellowships to be determined, Dr Ochanda nearly didn't make it at all.

"When I checked Frederick's CV, he had as a referee someone with whom he had known since primary school," Associate Professor Barnett smiled.

"I said 'I am not talking to him', but I looked up his PhD supervisor on the Internet and we had an exchange of emails in which he said he couldn't recommend Frederick highly enough.

"I have encouraged Frederick to put him on his CV in the future."

Associate Professor Barnett is pleased he made the extra effort to check out Dr Ochanda's credentials.

"Recruiting Frederick has allowed me to enter a whole new field of research," he said.

"This is one of the really good things about these Alfred Deakin fellowships.

"While they are competitive, very competitive, they are easier to get than an Australian Research Council grant if you are trying to enter a new field. In fact it would be just about impossible to do that through the ARC.

"I have been working with big chunks of metals but Frederick's got this marvellous background where he is a chemist and he can work at the nanoscale.

"So he crosses over into a lot of areas in a way that allows us all to develop our research."

Both Associate Professor Barnett and Dr Ochanda believe that if they can substantiate their belief that nanofibres mixed with nanoparticles can greatly enhance the performance of solar cells, they might have arrived at the cusp of a major breakthrough.

"It's very early days," Associate Professor Barnett said. "But thanks to the Alfred Deakin Fellowship allowing us to bring Frederick to Australia, the work is now being done."

Whatever else they might achieve, the two scientists have also successfully worked together to achieve Dr Ochanda's other reason for coming to Australia ? seeing a kangaroo in the wild.

"Matthew invited me to his house for dinner," Dr Ochanda said.

"And after dinner we went out and we saw the kangaroos in the wild with a spotlight.

"It was marvellous!"

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