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  Developing advanced solar cells through machine learning, device physics, engineering and mathematical simulation

   Department of Engineering

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  Prof Roderick MacKenzie  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Renewable Energy Northeast Universities (ReNU) is a collaborative doctoral training programme run by the Universities of Northumbria, Newcastle and Durham. In addition to undertaking an individual scientific research project at one of the three partner Universities, doctoral candidates will engage with added value training opportunities, for example in business, innovation and internationalisation through a 4-year training programme that has been designed to maximise the benefits of a cohort approach to doctoral training. The start date is 1st October 2022.

This PhD will combine machine learning, semiconductors physics and state-of-the-art computer modeling to design the next generation of solar cells for turning light into electricity. There is currently intense academic and industrial interest to move beyond silicon as the primary material humanity uses for solar energy harvesting. Traditional silicon modules have limited applications due to their rigidity and installation requirements. By contrast, new technologies such as those based on organic molecules offer flexibility and can be readily glued to surfaces such as building facades, increasing applications. A key advantage are very low lifecycle emissions, offering a lower avoided carbon cost ( 

You will build machine learning models to understand the performance of novel solar cells fabricated from organic molecules. These devices offer the potential for a paradigm shift for solar technology compared to the current silicon technology. The candidate will have access to cutting-edge data provided by our industrial partners Heliatek GmbH (, Dresden who are the global technology leader and the only manufacturer of industrial grade organic solar films. You will be in the unique position to directly apply our newly developed theoretical models to large industrial data sets and thus have an opportunity to directly influence the future of renewable energy generation using mathematics and theory.

This project will be at the interface between machine learning, semiconductor physics, computer programming and materials science. A background in all of these areas would be desirable but enjoying programming computers and sound grounding in semiconductor physics is essential. You will be supervised by Dr. Roderick MacKenzie, the author of the widely known solar cell simulation package

The project is supervised by Dr Rod MacKenzie who can be contacted for informal enquiries at [Email Address Removed].

The application closing date is 25th May 2022 and interviews will take place later in the month. Please note that interviews will be online rather than in person due to COVID-19.

Eligibility and How to Apply

Our eligibility requirements are:

•      Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.

•      If required, an IELTS score of 6.5 with no component under 6.0.

·      Two satisfactory academic references.

•      Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Durham or elsewhere.

You must apply through the University’s online postgraduate application system.

  • Create an account and click ‘Postgraduate Apply’ on the top ribbon.
  • Search for ‘EPSRC CDT’ in Course and select Renewable Energy Northeast Universities (EPSRC CDT) starting in 2022/23. 
  • Complete the application form, ensuring the following:
  • On the funding tab select ‘yes’ you are applying for a scholarship, select ‘Other’, write RENU/MacKenzie in the name of the scholarship, and select 1st October 2022 as the start date. No scholarship documents are required.
  • On the project course details tab write RENU/MacKenzie in Field of Study.
  • Please include an application letter summarising your motivation and suitability for the project.
  • Please ensure you follow all of these steps to ensure your application is considered.


Funding notes

Home and International students (inc. EU) are welcome to apply. The studentship is available to Home and International students, and includes a full stipend at UKRI rates (for 2020/21 full time study, this was £15,609 pa) and full tuition fees. Also, significant additional funding is included to cover research costs and local, national and international travel such as conferences and exchanges. Note that these studentships will be awarded on a competitive basis between projects. We anticipate that up to 2 awards will be made for projects hosted at Durham. 

Please note there are a limited number of full international scholarships available. Further information about how EPSRC classifies international fee status please see Annex B of

Computer Science (8) Materials Science (24) Physics (29)
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 About the Project