Concerning Coding

Students at the coding Hive, University of Liverpool. © Olivia Ashton

JPhys+ is proud to support CDT-PV, a multicentre team across 7 Universities training highly skilled students in sustainable energy and photovoltaic technologies. Here we catch up with students Joel Smith and Rachael Greenhalgh and their recent training:

The world of science today is dependent on the computing systems around us and the ability of scientists to use them effectively. At the current yearly cohort of CDT-PV, most of us started the year with only limited coding experience, from undergraduate modules or Codecademy. As part of an integrated training program across seven institutions we are learning different aspects of computing in modern science, from simple Python programs to modelling techniques to data handling and analysis.

As part of our module at the University of Liverpool we took part in a coding Hive with HiPy . HiPy was started by a group of researchers with the objective of bringing together budding coders from a variety of backgrounds. With a group learning style, attendees are empowered with tools for use in science, game design and more broadly as outreach. We took part in a session using CheckiO, a sequential learning game to gradually advance your coding ability in a fun and engaging way. The platform is a great next step for anyone looking for something to take the beyond Codecademy or other beginner Python learning.

During a module in Sheffield, we were joined by Nick and Jack from one of our industrial partners, Ossila. They showcased their Xtralien X100 source measure unit, which can be controlled using Scientific Python programming to run customised experiments. We then continued with an interactive real-world application session using a simplified, user-friendly distribution of Python called Xtralien Scientific Python to electrically characterise an LED. By collaborating on the workshop, Ossila could road-test the usability of the Xtralien System with PhD researchers and plan future developments that our scientific community could benefit from. Ossila’s long-term goal for the Xtralien X100 is for it to become a centrepiece instrument for a range of different applications and test equipment, across a multitude of disciplines. By utilising an adaptable programming environment and versatile hardware, Ossila is hoping researchers can customise and manipulate the system to suit their needs. This is a similar approach to the generic Arduino platform that has led to the current wave of open-source electronics.

This month we are based at the University of Southampton with courses in numerical methods, TCAD modelling and drift-diffusion current modelling. The numerical methods course is giving us skills in solving mathematical functions and physical problems using Python. In a workshop we analysed solar irradiance data for Southampton and considered efficient ways to process and analyse it. Often the hardest aspect to solving problems digitally can be defining how to communicate them into a processable format, which this course has helped with. 

Students at the coding Hive, University of Liverpool. © Olivia Ashton

Another aspect of effective experimental practice is knowing when to use simulation to enhance your design, minimising wasted time in the lab by having accurate predictions of how your solar devices will behave. A two day course in TCAD (Technology Computer Aided Design) software simulation of solar has given us an insight into device optimisation through parameter modelling.

On the more theoretical side we have been learning to model semiconductors through a drift diffusion model from first principles. The course is being taken by Giles Richardson, who along with CDT students Nicola and James have been using this approach to model hysteresis in perovskite solar cells, which they attribute largely to ionic lattice hopping. It’s just so great to see science coming together from theoretical and experimental standpoints as well as scientific collaboration across different CDT institutions.

Our final modules of the year in Bath and Loughborough will include Matlab programming, LabView and learning new methods of data analysis. Coding really does underpin our PhD work, whether experimental or theoretical. I think we’re all realising that the more you put into coding, the more you can get out, in whatever work you’re doing. It’s a valuable skill both on its own and with science so get learning! Also, if you’re interested in starting a PhD in solar energy with the CDT, applications are currently open for 2017 entry – Join us!

Authors: Joel Smith and Rachael Greenhalgh

Categories: JPhys+

Tags: , , ,

%d bloggers like this: