Wendy Flavell

Professor of Surface Physics and Director of Postgraduate Education

Wendy Flavell

I think interacting with people from other disciplines is crucial in tackling the really big challenges that face us; like how to provide for our future energy needs without wrecking the environment. I feel that no other university in the UK could provide me with this kind of environment.

Manchester is one of the very best places in the UK to do physics research, and for me there is the extra draw of outward-facing interdisciplinary research.

I work in the Photon Science Institute, where I interact every day with people from other disciplines. I think this is crucial in tackling the really big challenges that face us; like how to provide for our future energy needs without wrecking the environment. I feel that no other university in the UK could provide me with this kind of environment.

It's not an accident that the School has generated so many Nobel Laureates past and present – it's a fantastically stimulating environment in which to work.

My teaching

I try to incorporate the very latest research results into every course I give, and leave a few loose ends trailing so students can go and follow up on things that really excite them. I also try to add some very silly demonstrations where possible because they stick in the mind. A few bad jokes don’t go amiss either. One of my favourite aspects of teaching is being in a packed lecture theatre of 250 students and seeing that light bulb moment in the audience when the students 'get it'.

My research

At present, most of our research is aimed at making solar cells cheaper or more efficient; preferably both. We are investigating 'quantum dots' - which are small clusters of a few hundred atoms of semiconductor – as possible light harvesters in the next generation of solar cells.

We are interested in the fundamental physics of what happens immediately after light is absorbed, and how the current generated gets out of the quantum dot and through a cell. This means we need to study how the energy levels of the different parts are lined up and also what happens at all the interfaces – and all with atomic resolution.

Techniques used include resonant photoemission, X-ray pnotoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), scanning tunnelling microscopy (STM), and near-edge X-ray absorption spectroscopy (NEXAFS).

I enjoy doing something no one has ever done before, regardless of whether it’s sensible or not, especially when you suddenly realise you may understand what’s happening!

Career highlights

I guess the highlight of my career is when I became the only the sixth female Professor of Physics in the UK at the age of 36. I also feel honoured to have served on the Physics Panels for the last two UK national research quality assessments; RAE2008 and REF2014. If you are nominated, your peers trust your judgement; and that’s good to know.

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