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Polanyi Prize goes to U of T researcher for his work on more efficient solar materials

Engineering postdoc one of five recognized as outstanding Ontario researchers in early states of their careers

(photo by Marit Mitchell)

Riccardo Comin, a postdoctoral fellow in The Edward S. Rogers Sr. Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, has won the 2015 John Charles Polanyi Prize for Physics for his research into a rapidly emerging new class of materials, called perovskites, for more efficient solar cells and lighting.

The Polanyi Prizes are given annually to outstanding researchers in the early stages of their careers. The prizes, worth $20,000 each, are awarded in five areas: physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and economic science. Comin is the only recipient from the University of Toronto this year. (Read about some of U of T's previous Polanyi Prize winners.)

“By scientific upbringing, I’m a solid state physicist,” said Comin. “I take new compounds, films or crystals, crafted by chemists, and I analyze them to figure out what’s special about those materials.”

Comin’s work, under the direction of Professor Ted Sargent, is to investigate the mysterious properties of a very special family of hybrid organic-inorganic materials called perovskites. Perovskites show great promise for a range of applications, from more efficient LED technologies to high-efficiency flexible and lightweight solar cells.

Read more about Comin’s recent work, published in the journals Science and Nature:

“My work in the Sargent Group has been to explore various key characteristics of perovskites, including their chemical composition, crystalline structure, and electronic structure,” said Comin. “Thanks to the Polanyi Prize, I plan to expand my work into using x-ray methods to look at the collective phenomena involving the reorientation of the organic molecules embedded in the inorganic crystalline structure of these hybrid materials.”

Comin earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Universita degli Studi di Trieste in Italy, both in physics. He completed his PhD at the University of British Columbia under the supervision of Andrea Damascelli, where he worked on characterizing quantum materials. When he joined the Sargent Group for his postdoctoral fellowship, he was ready to take a more applied approach to his research.

“I’d done a lot of fundamental materials science, and I was thinking, ‘What are the strategies and processes involved in harnessing and functionalizing the material properties that are key for devices that realize solar, imaging or lighting applications?’” he said “Here, we’re trying not just to develop high-quality materials, but also to combine them into device architectures that use the best properties of these materials. Ultimately, the metric for the quality of the work is the efficiency and performance of our devices.”

The John Charles Polanyi prize was created in honour of the achievement of John Charles Polanyi, recipient of the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and a professor in the University of Toronto’s department of chemistry.

“My congratulations to Riccardo, who is doing exceptional research,” said Professor Sargent, vice-dean, research for the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, and Comin’s supervisor.

“It’s particularly wonderful to see him honoured with this award, named after one of the greatest investigators in the University of Toronto’s long history.”

Learn more about the other 2015 John Charles Polanyi winners

Marit Mitchell is a writer with the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering at the University of Toronto