Graduate Profile

Ned Ekins-Daukes, MSci 1995

After completing my degree in Physics & Electronics at St Andrews, I took a MSc course in Semiconductor Physics at Imperial College London.  The MSc course then lead to a PhD and then three years of post-doctoral work on advanced solar cell devices.  I subsequently received a fellowship to work at the Toyota Technological Institute in Nagoya, Japan, where I am currently (2004) based, working on both the physics and engineering of advanced solar cell devices.

Ned Ekins-Daukes enjoying the mountain air

Nagoya is the home of Toyota and the Toyota Technological Institute is the centre for Japan's high-efficiency solar cell programme, one that is responsible for several world records in solar energy.  A collaboration with Sharp Corporation recently achieved the world's most efficient solar cell, with a sunlight to electrical power conversion efficiency in excess of 37%.  Working together with scientists from the Daido Steel company, this highly efficient solar cell is now at the prototype stage as a commercially viable solar panel for residential use.  Solar energy is a greatly underused energy resource, so the work aims to lessen the impact that industrialised nations have on the environment, as well as providing the assistance afforded by electricity to the 2 billion people who currently live without it.

These highly efficient solar cells are also used on spacecraft and satellites, so it is important to study the damage to the solar cell caused by high energy protons and electrons that are ejected from the sun.  This involves visits to nuclear facilities to perform the irradiation and is followed by extensive testing and computer simulation.  This work is of interest not just to the Japanese Space Exploration Agency, JAXA but also to NASA and other aerospace corporations.  A perk of the job is to visit these places and gain an insight into the extraordinary feats of engineering required to launch a spacecraft and keep it working while in orbit.

While much of my work described above could be called electronic or electrical engineering, my long standing interest in basic physics is also satisfied by working on the fundamentals of solar energy power conversion.  A solar cell is essentially a heat engine, constrained by certain processes, but there is nothing fundamental preventing a solar cell from operating at an efficiency of up to 86%.  The thermodynamics of solar energy and indeed optoelectronics in general is a fascinating area and recent work in this field has inspired new solar cell concepts that promise remarkably high conversion efficiencies.  The challenge is now to achieve these efficiencies in practice.

My career has been built on the solid foundation provided by my degree in Physics & Electronics at St Andrews.  It has allowed me to work both as a physicist and as an engineer on a variety of problems and with scientists from around the globe.  I wish all prospective students all the very best with their studies.

Ned's personal home page

First posted BDS 2004