A student perspective of the joint ReNew-PV – Kesterite workshop in Verona

On the train back from the first joint venue of the Renew-PV Workshop (2nd edition) and European Kesterite+ Workshop (14th edition) in Verona (Italy), I am thinking retrospectively about this event addressing the challenges of new materials for sustainable energy applications.

First of all, this wonderful event would of course have not been possible without the outstanding organization from Dr. Natalia Maticiuc, Dr. Nicolae Spalatu, and especially Prof. Alessandro Romeo and Dr. Elisa Artegiani who welcomed us in truly beautiful historical buildings for both the conference and the gala dinner, where the delicious food and (too many ?) drinks allowed laid-back networking within such a diverse community. Having the workshop in the beautiful antic roman city of Verona gave an interesting perspective to the event, reminding us about the many forefront developments that occurred on the Old Continent which should make us take responsibility for leading the way towards a more sustainable world.

Indeed, the very mission of both the Renew-PV community and the European Kesterite+ workshop is to aim at more sustainability, which convinced me that doing 13h of train to move between Belgium and northern Italy was the right thing to do. As a young person born in the late 90s when fossil fuels were unquestionable, I have entered the adult life with an important yet worrying question: will human society be able to sustain its future without sacrificing Earth’s integrity ? Even though this combined workshop did not provide a definite answer, it surely contributed to show that luckily there are more and more people looking for solutions, especially at the level of academic research.

I personally found this workshop of excellent scientific quality with really interesting discussions and encouraging level of interactions despite the sometimes-whimsical microphones. Being myself a PV researcher in kesterites, I was delighted to see the exciting new results about not only lab-cell efficiency improvements but also the study of their extension to a broader range of applications and to more realistic situations, which is key to reach a fully decarbonated society. However, targeting more deeply integrated PV resonates to me with a much-needed shift of paradigm from “all about efficiency” promoting competition towards “all about functionality” rather promoting collaboration, which even applies to science in general where I believe the only way forward is together.

Doing so inevitably requires an implication from all generations, especially regarding the aspect of sustainability where the current new generations have recently mobilized to move the lines since they will mostly be the ones living in the post-2050 world. However, the lack of initiative from young researchers during the mini-conference was mentioned during the closing discussion and I myself tend to think that stepping up in a room including more senior people often appears scary or challenging for a less experienced PhD student. Notwithstanding the importance for anyone to get out of her/his comfort zone, maybe there are also ways to even out the academic hierarchy and bring closer the different generations so as to include all of their valuable perspectives. One possible solution may reside in Prof-PhD exchanges: for a day, junior researchers would be involved in higher-level decision making (project writing, funding acquisition, department meetings, …) while group leaders would follow PhD students in the lab with their day-to-days struggles.

Romain Scaffidi