Work full-time, live some 550 km from campus, study towards a PhD … and throw a pandemic into the mix. This definitely sounds like a recipe for disaster.
Not for newly-capped Dr Wiseman Mpilo Dlamini, who earned his PhD in Physics for his research entitled: Plasmon as a Mechanism to Improve Performance of Bulk-heterojunction Organic Solar Cells. He was supervised by Professor Genene Mola.
‘Dlamini used local surface plasmon resonance effect to improve the performance of thin film organic solar cells,’ said Mola. ‘He found new evidence on the effect of metal nanoparticles on the charge transport processes and the trapping of solar radiation using a very thin layer of polymer solar absorber. He also published four research articles in international peer-reviewed journals.’
Hailing from Mhlabashane near the small town of Ixopo in KwaZulu-Natal, Dlamini overcame humble beginnings to rise to academic success. ‘I never thought this would happen to me,’ he said. ‘I am overwhelmed with joy and pride.’
As an alumnus, Dlamini chose UKZN for his PhD as he had a well-developed working relationship with Mola. ‘I had fallen in love with UKZN so much that I even influenced my siblings to study here. At home we are a family of UKZN graduates,’ he joked.
The threat of global warming and diminishing reserves of fossil fuels motivated Dlamini to research solar cells. ‘Organic solar cells are easier to produce, flexible and more environmentally friendly than inorganic (silicon) solar cells,’ he said.
‘Currently, the whole world relies significantly on fossil fuels for energy, and this has created major environment pollution and global warming problems. Solar (sunlight) energy has been considered as one of the most promising, abundant and clean energy sources. Solar cells are used to harvest this energy and convert it to usable electricity.
‘My research focused on improving the performance of polymer/organic material-based solar cells using metallic nanoparticles. Polymer solar cells are the subject of intense research and development with the aim being to replace their inorganic (silicon based) counterparts.
‘My research used metallic nanoparticles to improve the sunlight-to-electricity conversion efficiency of the solar cells. The solar cells incorporated with the nanoparticles showed significantly enhanced performance.
‘The significance of this research is that it adds to the body of knowledge and contributes to the quest to find alternative clean, cheap energy sources to solve energy scarcity and global warming/climate change,’ said Dlamini.
Based in Pretoria, Dlamini acknowledged that COVID-19 restrictions made his research extremely difficult as access to equipment was limited and the ban on interprovincial travel had him feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place. The July 2021 unrest did not help either.
He kept himself sane by playing soccer, jogging and listening to music in his spare time.
Fear of failure and the desire to achieve was Dlamini’s recipe for success. ‘Proper planning, effective time management, and assistance and support from friends, colleagues, my supervisor and my family were a huge help,’ he said.
Dlamini thanked a number of organisations and people, including the National Metrology Institute of South Africa, the National Research Foundation, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, his supervisor, his family and his fiancée as well as various colleagues and friends.
With his PhD completed and now on a well-earned “study break”, Dlamini intends spending more quality time with his fiancée and son. ‘I wish that the youth of this country, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds and rural areas can be more inspired and believe that they too can achieve success,’ he said. ‘As the youth of today, we are afforded opportunities that the generation before us was not.’
Words: Cindy Chamane
Photographs: Supplied and Sandile Ndlovu