Image of Sean KavanaghCan you tell us about yourself?

My name’s Seán Kavanagh, and I’m a first-year PhD student in the Materials department here at Imperial. I grew up near Dublin, Ireland, where I studied Nanoscience, Physics and Chemistry of Advanced Materials in Trinity College Dublin, before coming here to continue my studies. Outside the lab, I enjoy being active, listening to podcasts/audiobooks and watching movies/TV. I love socialising with friends, whether it be going to the cinema or sampling the London nightlife scene. I also love to travel, especially for snowboarding holidays in the winter!

Can you provide a summary of your research? 

My PhD research is focused on the use of computational materials modelling to improve the performance of energy devices, namely photovoltaic solar cells, batteries and thermoelectrics, through enhanced understanding of crystalline defects in these materials. When the body creates billions of genetic code in DNA, there are inevitable imperfections termed genetic mutations. Likewise, there are similar inevitable imperfections in every solid-state material which can significantly enhance or degrade device performance, such as solar cell efficiency, battery capacity and battery lifetime. Insights gained from investigations of these defects can be applied to the cutting edge of solid-state energy material research and development, in order to optimise energy device performance and cost.

Why did you choose to study at Imperial and how has your experience been so far? 

After experimental research projects in Nokia - Bell Labs (“Fabrication of Efficient Heat Transfer Devices via Colloidal Template Electrodeposition”) and the Nicolosi Advanced Materials group (“Synthesis and Characterisation of Ultra-Thin Tin(II) Oxide Platelets for Energy Storage Applications”) during my undergraduate, I decided to take a leap of faith by pursuing a PhD in computational materials science. When considering my options for a PhD in this field, my current supervisor here at Imperial, Prof. Aron Walsh, came highly recommended as a world-renowned leading researcher in this field. Moreover, the prestige and reputation of Imperial College strongly attracted me, as I was confident that all the facilities and services necessary to make the most out of my PhD would be available here. Alongside the appeal of studying in a big, exciting city like London, these factors are ultimately what led to me choosing to study at Imperial, and I haven’t looked back since!

What is the current highlight of your PhD?

The highlights of my PhD so far have definitely been the scientific conferences I have attended. Specifically, the RSC Solid-State Chemistry Group meeting in Liverpool and the Thomas Young Centre Student Conference at King’s College London, where I managed to win best poster! At both events, I found the research talks and posters captivating. The opportunity to interact with other researchers in the same specific discipline as me was of great value and benefit. Moreover, it was a great experience to present my recent work from a collaboration with another research group in the Imperial Materials department (Prof Robert Hoye) – Band Alignment of Antimony and Bismuth Halide Double Perovskites.

What are your top tips for completing a PhD at Imperial?

My main top tip for a PhD at Imperial is to avail of as much of the (many) fantastic opportunities that are provided to enhance your PhD experience, whether it be any of the industrial collaboration / enterprise programs, outreach (such as a stand at the Great Exhibition Road Festival), presenting your work at the Postgraduate Research Day (or any other conference for that matter) or attending the Graduate School seminars on future careers and professional skills. Additionally, I would strongly encourage new PhD students to socialise as much as possible, through societies or with people in your department/office. For instance, I joined the Data Science Society and attended their weekly machine-learning workshops (which included free pizza!), where I met a lot of really friendly and helpful people. I also made friends with other PhD students in my CDT (Centre for Doctoral Training) and research departments. Apart from the benefits of knowing people who can help with your work and who you can bounce ideas off, having friends and people you can talk to is really important for enjoying your PhD!