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Department of Physics

The Cavendish Laboratory


Louise C. Hirst is Professor of Materials Physics at the University of Cambridge. She obtained her PhD from Imperial College in 2013, and was subsequently appointed National Academies Research Associate, Karles Fellow and Staff Scientists in the Optoelectronics and Radiation effects branch at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. She formed the Space Photovoltaics research group in Cambridge in 2018, which bridges the Department of Physics and the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy. Her current research focuses on the development of photovoltaic systems for next generation space power applications, including satellite networks, space exploration and space based solar power. Translational research within her group looks at ultra-thin photonic integrated devices (, novel III-V growth on graphene ( and radiation damage in space environments ( and she is principal investigator on current research programmes including “Gliding epitaxy for inorganic space-power sheets” (ERC 853365), “Concentrator solar cells to deliver space based solar power” (BEIS NZIP SBSP1003) and “Radiation induced defects in space photovoltaic systems” (Royal Society, IEC\R3\193005).


Ultra-thin III-V photovoltaics:

Ultra-thin (<200 nm) III-V photovoltaics are an emerging device concept, to increase W/kg while

also enabling new fully flexible satellite form factors. This technology offers intrinsic radiation tolerance, to enable extended missions in challenging space environments such as polar earth orbits and Jovian exploration. Traditional PV devices are usually several microns thick. This is required for full absorption of incident solar illumination however, it also means that photo-generated charge carriers have a longer distance to travel before they can be collected at the device terminals. In space environments photovoltaic devices are bombarded with high energy charged particles which introduce defects into the absorbing semiconductor material, severely degrading device performance. Charge carriers are much more readily extracted in ultra-thin devices making them less sensitive to the presence of defects and therefore better able to survive radiation exposure. In order to fully absorb incident solar illumination in an ultra-thin semiconductor film, advanced light management approaches are required such as the use of sub-wavelength nanophotonic scattering structures to couple light into laterally propagating modes. In this way, a device which is optically thick but electrically thin can be fabricated.


Development and characterization of novel III-V alloys:

As optoelectronic devices evolve, novel III-V multi-species alloys are increasingly employed to engineer the combination of bandgaps and band alignments necessary to manipulate carrier dynamics and achieve new functionality and high performance. In practice, the growth of these alloys can be extremely challenging because the immiscibility of certain compositions can lead to phase segregation within the solid, which severely degrades the material's optical and electronic properties. Luminescence characterisation methods including temperature and power dependent photoluminescence as well as nanoscale imaging techniques such as scanning transmission electron microscopy are critical to understanding these novel materials and effects of composition, growth temperature and annealing on their material properties. As well as performing characterisation, my research seeks to develop computational tools to provide a quantitative interpretation of the results.


Advanced photovoltaics concepts with III-V quantum well structures:

The material properties of III-V alloys can be further engineered using quantum confining structures for new device functionality. The hot-carrier solar solar is fundamentally different type of solar heat engine, which can exploit the properties of quantum well structures, in theory enabling solar energy conversion efficiencies up to 85%.  This is achieved by preventing the dissipation of photon energy above the bandgap of the absorber as heat in the lattice and extracting carriers from the device whilst they are still “hot”. My research is this area focuses on the characterisation of carrier dynamics in III-V quantum well structures to develop materials which exhibit restricted carrier-phonon interaction. By adjusting alloy composition of barrier and well materials, electron and hole confining potentials can be independently tuned allowing for interaction rates to be engineered. This concept is well established within the field of quantum cascade lasers, however my research demonstrates that these systems are also promising candidates for hot-carrier solar cell development.


Key publications: 

A. Barthel, L. Sayre, G. Kusch, R. A. Oliver, and L. C. Hirst, "Radiation effects in ultra-thin GaAs solar cells", Journal of Applied Physics 132, 184501 (2022) doi: 10.1063/5.0103381

Zulqurnain, M., Burton, O., Al-Hada, M., Goff, L., Hofmann, S., & Hirst, L. C. (2022). “Defect seeded remote epitaxy of GaAs films on graphene.” Nanotechnology, 33, 485603. doi: 10.1088/1361-6528/ac8a4f

Camarillo Abad E, Joyce HJ, Hirst LC. “Transparent Quasi-Random Structures for Multimodal Light Trapping in Ultrathin Solar Cells with Broad Engineering Tolerance.” ACS Photonics. 2022 Aug 17;9(8):2724-2735. doi: 10.1021/acsphotonics.2c00472.

Sayre, L, Camarillo Abad, E, Pearce, P, et al. Ultra-thin GaAs solar cells with nanophotonic metal-dielectric diffraction gratings fabricated with displacement Talbot lithography. Prog Photovolt Res Appl. 2022; 30( 1): 96- 108. doi:10.1002/pip.3463

F. Lang, G. E. Eperon, K. Frohna, E. M. Tennyson, A. Al-Ashouri, G. Kourkafas, J. Bundesmann, A. Denker, K. G. West, L. C. Hirst, H.-C. Neitzert, S. D. Stranks, (2021) “Proton-Radiation Tolerant All-Perovskite Multijunction Solar Cells.” Adv. Energy Mater. 2021, 2102246. DOI:10.1002/aenm.202102246

Abad, E. C., Joyce, H. J., & Hirst, L. C. (2020). Light management in ultra-thin solar cells: a guided optimisation approach. Optics Express28(26), 39093-39111.

Hirst, Louise. "Ever thinner high-efficiency cells." Nature Energy 4.9 (2019): 726-727.

L. C. Hirst, N. A. Kotulak, S. Tomasulo, J. Abell, M. González, M. K. Yakes, J. R. Meyer, R. J. Walters, C. Song, P. Specht, P. Ercius and C. Kisielowski. “Imaging atomic scale clustering in III-V semiconductor alloys”, ACS nano (2017)

L. C. Hirst, M. K. Yakes, J. H. Warner, M. F. Bennett, K. J. Schmieder, R. J. Walters, and P. P. Jenkins. “Intrinsic radiation tolerance of ultra-thin GaAs solar cells” Appl. Phys. Lett. 109(3): 033908 (2016)

L. C. Hirst, M. P. Lumb, J. Abell, C. T. Ellis, J. G. Tischler, I. Vurgaftman, J. R. Meyer, R. J. Walters, M. González. “Spatially indirect radiative recombination in InAlAsSb grown lattice-matched to InP by molecular beam epitaxy” J. Appl. Phys. 117(21):215704 (2015)

L. C. Hirst, R. J. Walters, M. F. Führer, N. J. Ekins-Daukes. “Experimental demonstration of hot-carrier photo-current in an InGaAs quantum well solar cell” Appl. Phys. Lett. 104(23):231115 (2014)

L. C. Hirst, H. Fujii, Y. Wang, M. Sugiyama, N. J. Ekins-Daukes. “Hot carriers in quantum wells for photovoltaic efficiency enhancement” IEEE J. Photovolt. 4(1):244-252 (2014)

L. C. Hirst, N. J. Ekins-Daukes, “Fundamental losses in solar cells” Prog. Photovolt. 9(3):286-293 (2011)

Professor, Department of Physics and Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy
Portrait of Louise Hirst

Contact Details

Email address: 
Mott Building
Department of Physics
Cavendish Laboratory
JJ Thomson Avenue
+44 (0)1223 331538