Written by Olivia Ashton
As a student, you largely stay away from the big, scary ‘real’ world that ‘real’ adults talk about and live in. As an undergraduate, going into industry at the end of your degree meant braving this world. Although some of my friends did a year in industry as part of their degrees, I was comfortable in my student bubble throughout my undergraduate years. Deciding to continue in to academia left me naively thinking that I would only have to deal with industry towards the end of my doctorate when I was ready for a real job (if that day ever comes). How wrong I was.
CDT-PV partners with twelve different companies; BAE Systems, Eight19, Echerkon, LSA Ltd, NSG, SiliconCPV, Ossila, OxfordPV, PowerVision, M-Solv, McCamley Middle East Ltd and Taylor Hobson. Throughout our training we have learnt more about them which has been extremely beneficial for numerous reasons:
- You can see and begin to understand the huge effort going in to your research area outside of the academic sphere
- Industrial labs and their research aren’t that different to academic ones (mainly cleaner and more organised)
- It is a good reminder about putting your work in to context; where it can and will go
We have also been lucky enough to visit four of these during our training courses, from an office to a 1.5 mile glass float line. At Eight19 we learnt about their business model and the trials and tribulations of start-up tech companies. Ossila presented on the importance of patenting work and on their aim to aid quicker research in electronics by providing state of the art equipment and products to customers. In a talk from Oxford PV, we heard about spinning out a business from a university research group. We also quizzed our host on the likelihood of perovskites actually making it to market (still awaiting a fully comprehensive answer).
My personal favourite has been NSG Pilkington, a large float glass line just outside of Liverpool. Mainly because up to this point, glass and transparent conducting oxides (TCOs) were just readily available substrates in the lab. I never really questioned where they came from or how they were made despite using (and abusing) them on a regular basis. At NSG Pilkington we saw gritty sand become glorious glass, and it was mesmerising. The operation is huge, and runs 24/7 meaning there is a constant flow of fresh glass all day every day. For something that is often taken for granted, it was great to learn about the complex process of floating glass to coat it in tin and how exactly this system was developed many years ago.
From these visits and talks, the industrial world doesn’t seem so far away or so scary anymore. I have a new appreciation for the relationship between academia and industry, and how interconnected the two are. Now I am excited to see how I can collaborate with industry and see where that will lead my own research.
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Images supplied by the author and used with permission.