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Thursday, 20 August 2020

Our 2019 laCaixa Junior Leaders in the spotlight: Dr Sonia Ruiz Raga

Recently, the ICN2 welcomed two recipients of the 2019 laCaixa Junior Leader grant: Dr Sonia Ruiz Raga and Dr Arnau Carné Sánchez. We interviewed Sonia to learn more about her and her research interests and future projects.

Can your summarise your training and professional career up to now?

I obtained my B.Sc. in Chemical Engineering (2010) and my M.Sc. (2011) and Ph.D. (2013) in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology at the Physics Department of the Universitat Jaume I, in Castelló, Spain. During my Master and Ph.D, I worked on device fabrication and characterisation of organic and dye-sensitised solar cells, specialising in particular on frequency-modulated electrochemical measurements.

In July 2013, I joined the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) in Japan as a postdoctoral researcher. There, I continued my research in this field, working on a novel material named hybrid perovskite for solar cell applications. My main project at this centre was to develop new synthesis methods for the optimization of perovskite and selective contact layers, focusing on surface science and the physics of the device. I developed a pioneering work consisting on gas-assisted perovskite film deposition for large area coatings (for which I also filed a patent). This work was awarded with funds from the OIST Proof of Concept Programme and I became the research leader of the project to further develop this technique.

In October 2017, I moved to Australia to continue my research on perovskite solar cells at Monash University, joining the Australian Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science (ACEx). Within the centre I was in charge of supporting the electrical characterisation of different devices and I also had the chance to mentor and supervise undergraduate and Ph.D. students. 

Early this year, I was awarded the fellowship laCaixa Junior Leader Incoming, so I joined as a senior researcher the ICN2 Nanostructured Materials for Photovoltaic Energy group, led by Dr Mónica Lira-Cantú, where I will work on perovskite solar cell stability.

What project(s) are you going to work on at the ICN2 thanks to this laCaixa Junior Leader grant?

At ICN2, I am going to focus my research on improving the operational stability of the perovskite-based solar cells (PSC) through interfacial modifications. Nowadays, PSC are the most promising low-cost photovoltaics, reaching power conversion efficiencies similar to the silicon solar panels, but with the advantage that PSC can be fabricated with low temperatures, cheap printing methods and can even be flexible and lightweight. The main reason why we don’t find it yet commercially available is because it suffers from poor operational stability, lasting just a few weeks or months. The goal is to make it stable for a few years in outdoor installations under heat, sunlight and other weather conditions. Among the several causes limiting PSC stability, I will work on improving the interfaces, where the layered materials that form the solar cell interact with each other. My project aims to understand in detail the degradation mechanisms that occur at the interfaces, and then modify them to overcome these issues and increase the solar cell life span.

Tell us something more about you, your passions, how you like to spend your time off.

I was born in Sant Carles de la Ràpita, a town in the south of Catalonia. I am a very conscious person about climate change and I try my best living sustainably in everything I do. I like to travel and getting immersed in the cultures of the places I go. Out of that, one of my hobbies is doing a fabric painting technique with stencil called Bingata, a traditional handcrafted technique from the Ryukyu era in Okinawa (Japan). Cooking is also a way to get immersed in the culture, and I am passionate on replicating Asian recipes and fermented food and improving my skills on it. I also love to do diving, hiking, wild camping in forests and in general being in the nature. Soon, I will be quite busy with my new-coming first baby!


Read the interview with Dr Arnau Carné Sánchez here.