C/O Paramita Bhattacharyya
The Silhouette: Please introduce yourself.
Paramita Bhattacharyya: My name is Paramita Bhattacharyya. I am currently doing my PhD in the department of engineering physics, where my specialization is in photovoltaics. I also did my master's here in the same department, so I have been with McMaster [University] for around three years now. I'm an international student, so I did my undergrad studies back in India.
What inspired you to pursue a PhD?
When I was doing my undergrad, it was by chance, or by luck that I got to know about an alumnus of my department who was working with photovoltaics. My dad is in a non-renewable energy sector, so he's associated with oil and . . . when I was growing up, I was always surrounded by concepts of renewables and non-renewables. When I got the chance in my undergrad to work on photovoltaics a little bit, I took that opportunity and I was fascinated by the research that I did. I came to McMaster for my masters because I wanted to specifically work on photovoltaics and I wanted to work with my supervisor [Rafael] Kleiman. Later, I loved my research so much that I was like, "No, I really want to do a PhD because I want to join the industry as a research scientist."
Could you elaborate on your research?
We are integrating solar cells [onto] the body of an electric car. Basically, we are not putting on panels, but we are making the body with steel and a [copper indium gallium selenide solar cell]. Particularly, my focus is that all the solar cells look pretty dull, like a blue or black colour. A market survey was done and it was found that no one really likes to have those dull coloured cars, and people definitely don't like to have a car which looks exactly the same as their neighbour’s. So, my research comes into the picture, because I am trying to make these dull, boring cells colourful by working with optical filters . . . I want to have solar cells that look colourful; that's the first part. The second is, we want to properly integrate those solar cells with the body of the car. Then we would love to see how much energy we are getting in different provinces in Canada and the States. We have to do a detailed study about how much energy the cells will be supporting for the battery and a lot of stuff. This is very new research, so it's in the very early stages. There are lots and lots of things to do, but we are keeping our goals pretty short right now, pretty small. Let's first know how to walk before we run.
Do you have a general idea of when we might be able to start seeing solar panel integrated cars?
I won't say many decades in the future, because the company called General Motors is working with us so it's already an industry collaboration. I expect to see the first prototype in four years. That means we will be able to make at least one car like that. After that, it takes a lot of time to scale down the existing manufacturing process that they already have right now and to integrate the new things that we will be recommending. So maybe in 10 to 15 years, we will be able to see those cars on the road, but again, I'm being extremely optimistic.
What has been your favourite part of your research?
Just the thrill of not knowing what I'm doing every day. It's very frustrating but it's very exciting. I love this adrenaline rush. I don't know whether what I am planning will actually work or not, so it can happen that three years down the line, whatever I was thinking is not working at all. There is always that risk. But, if we succeed, then we will also get the fun of doing something that no one has done before. It's that adrenaline rush, that uncertainty of life, because you just don't know what's going to happen. You are just trying to find something that you just don't know how it should look like, or what it is going to be — you're just trying to find something new.
Have you learned any personal lessons as a result of your research?
Yes, a lot. I have learned how to be more patient. I have learned how to not lose hope when things go bad because it's going to go bad all the time. Because the day you get your answer is the last day of your research. So, before that, every day may be a disappointment because you just don't know what's happening.
Do you have any other comments?
I would just tell people to be hopeful in this time. We are coming back, we will come back. So just keep working. Keep going. If you feel like you really don't know what you're doing in life, that's completely okay. The sun always rises after the darkest part of the night. It really doesn't matter what you do, you could do research, you join the industry, or you do something amazingly creative. Just do what you feel like doing, otherwise, you might be exhausted pretty easily so just do what you want to do.