Piers Barnes – “Research and an Ig-Nobel prize for Mathematics”

September 29th, 2020

Piers Barnes worked as a postdoctoral fellow in a group started by Ian Plumb which started him on the path to researching photovoltaic materials.

Piers is now a Lecturer in Experimental Solid State Physics at Imperial College London.

Piers worked as a post-doctoral fellow with CSIRO in a group started by Ian Plumb with Julie Glasscock, Tony Murphy, Lakshman Randeniya and Peter Vohralik, from 2004 until the middle 2007, it was an excellent experience, and started him on the path to researching photovoltaic materials.

The team was focussed developing water-splitting photoelectrodes for solar fuel production. They initially set out to reproduce an exciting report in Science showing very efficient water splitting using TiO2 photoelectrodes with the aim of scaling it up towards commercialisation. However it became clear that overestimation of solar conversion efficiency for this kind of technology was rife within the field, so their first main achievement was to accurately quantify efficiencies in these systems. They then set to work investigating other possible materials and device structures.

One of the aspects of the work that Piers is most proud of was the development of a drift-diffusion simulation of the system with Peter Vohralik. Unfortunately the project finished shortly after they got the model up and running, however, what he learned during this process has been really useful subsequently.

Piers Barnes and Nic Svenson were also very lucky to be awarded an Ig-Nobel prize for Mathematics for a rough calculation they did on the number of photos to take of a group to avoid ‘blinkers’. This was an amazing experience, and has resulted in many subsequent opportunities to meet interesting an unusual scientists over the intervening years.

Piers left CSIRO in mid-2007 and moved to the UK do a post-doc with Brian O’Regan in the Chemistry Department at Imperial College London. He is well known for his work on dye sensitised solar cells, and this was a very natural progression from Piers’ photoelectrode work at CSIRO.

Piers is still at Imperial College and has now moved to the Physics Department where he got a lectureship. One of the fruitful directions his group is currently pursuing involves drift-diffusion modelling of hybrid perovskite semiconductor devices and solar cells in which mobile ionic defects result in lots of interesting effects.

Piers dropped by to see the various old colleagues in Lindfield early last year when he was in Australia. He stays in touch with some of the team at CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle – Chris Fell and Greg Wilson – who have also been working on hybrid perovskite materials.

Piers is very happy to network and collaborate with future CSIRO activities – “Who knows what good stuff could happen!”