Turning to the sun

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Since its inception, the process of converting sunlight into electricity to create renewable solar energy has proved to be a game-changer in the growing battle against climate change. In its current form, solar energy is low-carbon and doesn’t generate any of the harmful emissions that have raged through our atmosphere from burning fossil fuels. So far, so positive.
But there remains a lot of work to be done, and that’s where the Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center, on the university’s Sde Boker campus, comes into the picture. Dedicated to the field of renewable solar energy, the country’s national solar energy research institute focuses on finding ways to turn solar power into something practical, in a cheaper and more effective manner than we currently can. Overlooking the beautiful Wadi Zin, the Center is ideally located in the Negev desert to harness the high levels of sunshine the area receives.
Solar Panels
But there remains a lot of work to be done, and that’s where the Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center, on the university’s Sde Boker campus, comes into the picture. Dedicated to the field of renewable solar energy, the country’s national solar energy research institute focuses on finding ways to turn solar power into something practical, in a cheaper and more effective manner than we currently can. Overlooking the beautiful Wadi Zin, the Center is ideally located in the Negev desert to harness the high levels of sunshine the area receives.
At her lab in the center, Prof Iris Visoloy-Fisher — chair of the Alexandre Yersin Department of Solar Energy and Environmental Physics (YDSEEP) and faculty member of the university’s School for Sustainability and Climate Change — is studying ways to develop materials and devices for sustainable solar energy conversion and storage using low-cost processors. Unlike in many other labs, her scientific experiments make use of natural sunlight, which is multiplied and concentrated through a unique optic, giving a real-world authenticity to her research.
Her ultimate aim? To create a technology that produces clean electricity from sunlight that’s as cheap as electricity today — if not cheaper — and that can be available in every electrical outlet, in all homes, even at night or on a cloudy day.
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For students keen to grasp the complexities and technological advances of the solar energy field, Ben-Gurion University’s Albert Katz International School for Desert Studies, also located on the Sde Boker Campus, has curated a two-year MSc program in environmental physics and solar energy. With scholarships available for outstanding applicants, the new degree — launched for the 2021/22 academic year — is unique in Israel in its scientific framework.
The program aims to train students in the physical aspects of environmental and natural resource studies — something that’s not always emphasized in courses that take a more multidisciplinary approach. It takes research tools from physical sciences (including physics, applied mathematics, chemistry, material science and engineering) and incorporates them into an environmental syllabus covering subjects such as climate science, global thermodynamics, solar energy and renewable energy.
The program includes thesis research as an essential part of its training, too, and aims to develop the students’ mental flexibility, enabling them to employ concepts from different fields.
Graduates will be equipped to carry out interdisciplinary environmental research. What’s more, they’ll have the tools to foster partnerships between physical and environmental sciences, building on a wider culture of collaboration that sees researchers cooperate with groups across Israel and beyond to improve efficiency and lower the price of new technologies.
The solution to climate issues has many faces; applying methodologies from the physical sciences to environmental research will be a powerful tool in addressing such challenges.