“I love working
with passionate people who want to help address climate change and poverty” … Nicole Kuepper yesterday.
Photo: Kate Geraghty
Deborah Smith, Science Editor
August 20, 2008
FOR her 10th birthday, Nicole Kuepper received an inspirational present from her parents – her first solar-energy kit.
It sparked a fascination with solar technology that last night led to Ms Kuepper, 23, winning two Australian Museum Eureka Prizes for her scientific research.
She has developed a simple, cheap way of producing solar cells in a pizza oven that could eventually bring power and light to the 2 billion people in the world who lack electricity.
Ms Kuepper is a PhD student and lecturer in the school of photovoltaic and renewable energy engineering at the University of NSW.
“I love working with passionate people who want to help address climate change and poverty by thinking and experimenting outside the square,” she said.
Today’s photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight to electricity are expensive and need sophisticated, “clean” manufacturing plants.
Ms Kuepper realised a new approach would be needed if affordable cells were to be made on site in poorer countries: “What started off as a brainstorming session has resulted in the iJET cell concept that uses low-cost and low-temperature processes, such as ink-jet printing and pizza ovens, to manufacture solar cells.”
While it could take five years to commercialise the patented technology, providing renewable energy to homes in some of the least developed countries would enable people to “read at night, keep informed about the world through radio and television and refrigerate life-saving vaccines”. And it would also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Ms Kuepper said that the solar cells should be of high enough quality to be used anywhere in the world, including Australia.
An advocate of green technology, she gives talks about solar energy to the public, has held miniature solar car races to teach indigenous children about renewable energy, and was a delegate at the 2020 Youth Summit in Canberra in April.
Ms Kuepper was awarded the British Council Eureka Prize for Young Leaders in Environmental Issues and Climate Change and a $10,000 study tour to Britain.
She also won the People’s Choice Award, in which almost 16,000 members of the public voted for their favourite scientist out of six finalists. Twenty Eureka Prizes worth $200,000 were awarded last night at a ceremony at Royal Randwick Racecourse.
Other winners included Professor Robert Clark, of the University of NSW, for quantum computer research, Professor Stephen Simpson of the University of Sydney, for studies of locusts and human obesity, and Professor Matthew England and his University of NSW team for discoveries linking ocean temperature and rainfall.