Get to know PhD Student – Sunita Gautam Adhikari


In this month’s newsletter, we would like to introduce PhD graduate, Sunita Gautam Adhikari from the College of Science and Engineering.

Sunita’s recently submitted thesis, “Unravelling the Secrets of Ageing in Dye-Sensitised Solar cells” received outstanding results from the examiners.

We asked Sunita to share what led her to a Phd, why it was important to her, the most enjoyable and hardest parts of a PhD journey and what the future holds.

What was the topic of your PhD and why was it important to you?

My doctoral research was focused on studying the ageing process of dye-sensitized solar cells, which are electrochemical cells powered by sunlight. These cells comprise a porous layer of titania coated with a dye that absorbs light and an electrolyte that links the sensitised titania to the platinum counter electrode. Dye-sensitized solar cells are significant as they can function at low light intensities and had a 13% efficiency rate a decade ago. However, their lifespan is too short, which is one of their limitations. My research aimed to examine and understand the ageing mechanisms of dye-sensitized solar cells.

What led you to undertake a PhD? What inspired or motivated you?

I am passionate about science and with a keen interest in Photovoltaic, I was inspired to make a valuable impact on collective knowledge.

Tell us about yourself

I started my PhD in 2020, as a FURS scholar, after completing my Master degree in 2018 from Flinders University. Having been born and raised in Nepal, I developed a profound interest in the field of physics during my formative years of high school. Despite the limited availability of experimental resources in my country, my classmates and I earnestly engaged in theoretical discussions to better comprehend the complex and intricate concepts of physics. Through such discussions, we were able to build a strong foundation in the subject and cultivate a deep understanding of the underlying principles that govern the natural world.

Tell us about your research

My PhD research work was divided into 3 stages.

The first stage of my work aimed to understand the anchoring modes of the dyes on the TiO2 substrate. This was because the dye had the potential to desorb from the surface, leading to ageing, and I noticed that several papers had been published on this topic. However, these papers were ambiguous and conflicting, which prompted me to investigate further.

The second stage of this work targeted to establish a technique that can be applied to understand ageing in dye-sensitized solar cells with ageing.

In the final stage, after establishing an effective ageing technique, an ageing investigation was performed on sample cells under two stress factors: dark and light. The main target of the study was to identify the main causative for the decrease in cell performance under different stress factors and to understand the impact on the cell interface.

What was been one of the most enjoyable parts of the journey?

I mostly enjoyed working in the lab, preparing sample cells and analysing. I also loved conferences; they provided a platform to meet right-minded people, showcase research, build connections, learn new things, and visit new places.

What was been one of the hardest parts of the journey?

Mostly things are not in your favour, but there are a few times when things do work out, and you can justify why they did. These are the times that keep you motivated.

What was highlight of your student life at Flinders?

The past four years have been a fantastic time in my life, during which I have seen myself change from a curious student to a self-reliant scientist. My doctoral journey was filled with moving encounters and intriguing science around me.

How did your supervisors support you during your candidature?

As a master’s student, I joined Gunther’s group, and ever since, he has served as a continual source of encouragement and inspiration for me. I truly appreciate him for believing in me and providing me with the appropriate opportunity.

How has your PhD helped you in the role you are in now?

The skills set I gained during PhD is directly translated to my recent job role.

How did you overcome any challenges of doing a PhD?

During the initial phase of pursuing my PhD, I felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work that needed to be done. However, I developed a strategy of breaking down the workload into smaller, more manageable tasks, and this approach proved to be immensely helpful. I made it a point to recognize and reward myself for the small achievements along the way, which gave me the motivation to keep pushing forward.

And, if I face continuous failures, I usually take a step back, delve deeper into the theory, alter one variable at a time, and then restart the process.

What advice would you give to those who are about to undertake a PhD?  

Developing resilience and embracing challenges are fundamental qualities for success. In the field of scientific research, setbacks, failures, and uncertainties are common, and it is important to acknowledge and accept them as part of the process. Starting early and maintaining a regular writing practice can help to develop clarity and improve the quality of your work. Remember to prioritize self-care to maintain your well-being, and take time to celebrate even the smallest achievements along the way.

What have you been doing since you completed?

Following the submission of my thesis, I started working as a research intern with entX, Clean Energy Technology, Adelaide.

Have you published anything?

I published my first article from my master’s research.  During my PhD journey, I have published 2 papers as co-author, 1 as main author and I am working on two more publications.

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