Helping the environment was always something Professor Kylie Catchpole of the Australian National University (ANU) wanted to do.
After completing a graduate degree majoring in physics, she found her way into solar energy. “It was a perfect fit for me,” she says.
Kylie, who also has a PhD in engineering from ANU, is currently working on a range of projects to improve the efficiency and reduce the cost of solar energy, through new materials and devices. “In particular we are working on perovskite solar cells, which are a new low-cost material that can be used to make high-performance solar cells, and also can be connected to catalysts to split water and generate hydrogen,” she explains.
Super passionate about the benefits of solar, Kylie believes it will come to dominate our electricity mix. “Solar is now the cheapest form of electricity in history. And we have enough solar energy falling on the earth to supply the world’s energy needs a hundred times over,” she says. “Already we see that there is more solar energy capacity being installed each year than any other technology. This is great because it is a low emissions technology that is displacing high emissions coal power. In the future we will see solar energy being used for things beyond electricity – like generating hydrogen to be used in the production of steel, for example.”
On the teaching side of her STEM gig, Kylie is excited about a new course she’s teaching
called ‘Optimism and Agency in Times of Change’. The course aims to help
students who would like to make a difference in the world but don’t know where
to start. “Through the course students will learn to understand their own strengths
and interests, and apply them in a project that focuses on an issue that is
important to them,” she explains. “The idea is that finding the work that excites you is best
approached as a series of experiments, and to teach students how to do that.”
Advice for future STEM professionals
Here are Kylie’s top tips for anyone considering a STEM study and career path.
- There are a variety of pathways available: “I’ve been very happy with my career choice, but it was something of an accident. What I’m trying to show students now is that there are many possible paths – in my case, with quantitative skills from my physics degree and an interest in the environment, I could have gone into a whole range of different areas – the key thing is to explore!”
- Just go for it: “STEM is an exciting area with lots of different directions where it can take you. Look for opportunities to combine your interest in engineering or STEM with other interests – like I did with engineering and the environment.”
Professor Kylie Catchpole’s STEM study and career path to becoming a solar cell researcher
- Bachelor of Science (Physics), ANU
- PhD, Engineering, ANU
- Postdoctoral fellow, UNSW + AMOLF
- Research fellow, ANU
- Associate Professor, ANU
- Professor, ANU
Author: Louise Meers
Louise is the production editor for Careers with STEM. She has a journalism degree from the University of Technology, Sydney and has spent over a decade writing for youth. She is passionate about inspiring young people to achieve their biggest goals.