Light is essentially a wave that carries energy. Though scientists have known this for hundreds of years, we are still striving to meet the challenge of converting that energy into a form that we can readily use – electrical energy, mechanical motion, heat and even to treat cancer.
This lecture, given one year after the 50th anniversary of the invention of the laser, will explore the use of light to better our lives. In particular, it will focus upon the ‘holy grail’ of harnessing the sun to generate electricity. Research by Dr. Simpson and her collaborators in the Photon Factory at the University of Auckland is making advances at both the very basic and very high-tech applied ends of this effort. Ultrashort pulsed lasers probe the chemical physics of how substances ‘decide’ what to do with the light energy they absorb. The same laser pulses also enable the high value manufacturing advances needed to make solar energy harvesting a technological (and economical) reality.
About Cather Simpson
In 2007, Cather Simpson joined The University of Auckland to establish and direct a new multi-user ultrafast laser spectroscopy and microfabrication facility, the Photon Factory. Her appointment is held jointly in Chemistry and Physics. In addition to her research in chemical physics, she lectures in the departments of Chemistry, Physics, and English.
Cather earned a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Virginia, then a Ph.D. in Medical Sciences at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine as a Howard Hughes Predoctoral Fellow. During her Ph.D. studies, she became increasingly interested in physics, chemistry and maths, and by the time she graduated, she had switched from studying receptor recycling in immune responses to exploring the fundamental interactions of light with molecules. After a Department of Energy Postdoctoral Fellowship at Sandia National Labs, she joined the academic staff in the Chemistry Department at Case Western Reserve University to pursue research in ultrafast (femtosecond) phenomena in the condensed phase. There, she earned tenure and promotion to Associate Professor and became dedicated to promoting innovation in undergraduate teaching, women in science, ethics in education and research, and in growing postgraduate numbers in her multi-disciplinary field.