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Department of Physics

The Cavendish Laboratory

There is a pressing need to reshape the world energy economy and shift to a sustainable, zero-carbon economy within the next 20-30 years. This sets huge scientific challenges but also offers enormous opportunities.

To achieve a zero-carbon future we need both incremental improvements of existing technologies, but also new science and new materials to make use of the significant headroom that remains for improving the performance, cost, reliability, and sustainability of our energy technologies. Research in Energy Materials in the Cavendish is covering three broad research directions in energy generation, energy storage and energy use.


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Research areas

Energy generation: There remain huge opportunities for improving the energy conversion efficiency of renewable electricity generation and to develop new ways for harvesting solar photons and other, currently unused energy sources.


We study the optoelectronic physics of new, soft functional materials, including organic and hybrid organic-inorganic semiconductors and their use in solar cells and novel device concepts for harvesting solar energy. We are also developing novel high efficiency photovoltaic device concepts based on III-V semiconductors, for space and other applications.

Ultrafast optical spectroscopy and microscopy

We develop and use time-resolved optical spectroscopy and microscopy techniques that probe the fundamental optoelectronic processes in novel energy materials with sub-10fs time and sub-10 nm spatial resolution providing powerful insight into the operation of a broad range of energy devices.

Thermoelectric physics of soft functional materials

2/3 of our primary energy is currently wasted as heat. We research new thermoelectric materials and device concepts for converting waste heat into useful electricity. The unique characteristics of organic and hybrid organic-inorganic semiconductors could enable more efficient thermoelectrics, but the relevant physics needs to be better understood.  

Molecular Nanoscale Mechanics

We investigate the mechanical properties of organic macromolecular systems using nanoscale metrology and atomic force microscopy and realize new micro/nanofabricated resonant mechanical devices that convert mechanical into electrical energy.


Energy storage and transmission: The electrification of large sectors of our energy economy and the large-scale generation of electricity from intermittent renewable sources requires cheaper, more reliable batteries with higher storage capacity as well as new approaches for lossless transmission of electricity over long distances.


New materials for batteries

We focus on the discovery and physical characterisation of a wide range of materials from complex metal oxides insulators to hybrid inorganic-organic semiconductors to improve the performance of established Li-ion batteries, but also to enable emerging technologies, such as Mg-ion storage devices.  

New High-TC superconductors

To reduce the energy losses incurred in long-distance electricity transmission we are interested in the discovery of novel high temperature superconductors and the understanding of the physics that allows superconductivity to persist at high temperatures.


Energy use: The proportion of electricity used for ICT has been predicted to reach 20% of total electricity demand by 2030. We urgently need to develop new computing paradigms that can process information with orders of magnitude less energy than what is currently possible.


Spintronics and ultrafast information storage

We study quantum spin-effects in magnetically ordered materials and at interfaces between magnetic and superconducting materials using different techniques with a bandwidth that ranges from DC up to terahertz frequencies.

Energy efficient lighting

Currently 20% of world electricity is used for lighting. There remains significant scope for further enhancing performance and efficiencies of light-emitting diodes and reducing their cost. For this we explore new organic and hybrid organic-inorganic semiconductors.

Low energy optoelectronic switching using extreme plasmonics

One approach for reducing the energy required for device switching is to trap light to the nanoscale. We explore scalable ways to nano-assemble devices, and how to enhance their light-matter interactions.  

Improving solar catalysis

We develop optofluidic detection methods based on hollow-core optical fibres for operando absorption-, Raman-, and fluorescence spectroscopy on sub-microliter reaction volumes. We aim to better understand and improve the efficiency of sustainable solar-fuel reactions that combine bio-inspired catalysts with novel carbon nanodot light-absorbers.

Radiative cooling

Building cooling is projected to be one of the largest drivers of increased use in coming decades. We study methods for passively cooling buildings by radiating heat to outer space, using ultrawideband spectroscopy to design materials and electrochromic devices with controllable absorption and emission properties.


In all of the above research programmes there is a close link between theory and experiment. The combination of quantum mechanics with powerful supercomputers and machine learning algorithms allows us to design novel energy materials at the atomic level in a virtual laboratory, understand their microscopic behaviour and in this way accelerate the materials discovery process.

Researchers and Research Groups associated with this theme

Prof Jeremy J Baumberg FRS, FRSC


Dr Chiara Ciccarelli


Dr Ibrahim Dar

Perovskite photovoltaics, light-emitting diodes 

Prof Sian E Dutton

Materials for batteries, photovoltaics, magnetocalorics, ferroelectrics

Dr Tijmen Godfried Euser

Operando spectroscopy, photocatalysis, fibre-optic sensing

Prof Richard Friend FRS

Optoelectronics, photovoltaics, light-emitting diodes

Prof Neil Greenham

Optoelectronics, photovoltaics, light-emitting diodes

Dr Louise Hirst

Photovoltaics and photonics

Dr Ian Jacobs

Thermoelectrics, radiative cooling

Dr Bartomeu Monserrat

Theory of energy materials

Prof Akshay Rao

Optoelectronics, photovoltaics, Ultrafast spectroscopy and microscopy, Optical probes of Electrochemistry

Prof Suchitra Sebastian


Prof Henning Sirringhaus FRS

Charge transport physics, thermoelectrics

Prof Sam Stranks

Optoelectronics, photovoltaics, light-emitting diodes

Dr Deepak Venkateshvaran

Molecular nanoscale mechanics