17 June 2020
17 June 2020
Cassia Attard is no ordinary nineteen-year-old. The young Canadian scientist is determined to help the world address climate change through renewable energies and nanotechnology.
After spending 10 months on a groundbreaking solar energy project at The Knowledge Society, an organisation in Toronto that helps train the next generation of innovators, Attard appeared at events such as the me Convention 2019 in Frankfurt to speak about her research. Here, she explains why nanotech could be the key to solar power and why she was motivated to help solve climate change from such a young age.
At just 19 you’ve already made a name for yourself in the scientific community. Doesn’t age play a role in science?
Most people think age is a barrier. In reality, it’s the opposite – professionals want to help young people who are working on important problems. When I reach out to people in the solar energy field, most are excited to help with my projects!
What sparked your interest so early?
When I was 15, I spent two weeks in the Bahamas doing marine research. There, I was introduced to really interesting sustainability practices and came back home with a new ambition: solving climate change. Later, I realised that exponential technology was the only way to stop and reverse climate change. If we had fully developed tools to solve the world’s hardest problems, they would have been solved already. When I was accepted into The Knowledge Society in Toronto, it enabled me to dive deeper and learn about these fast-developing technologies. There, I discovered quantum dots and started working on my projects. I went to a local lab and experimented on making my own quantum dots. Partnerships with the University of Waterloo and the University of Toronto later allowed me to turn my quantum dots into a transparent solar panel.
What are quantum dots, and why are they significant when it comes to solar energy?
Solar energy isn’t currently scalable because there are major technological barriers. I started to research new types of solar panels that are more efficient, like perovskite solar panels and nanowires, before I hit the jackpot: quantum dots! They are a semiconductive nanoparticle. This means that they are really small – 50 atoms across – and can absorb light energy. When you put them on a material like metal or glass, they can turn that material into a solar panel, but remain invisible.
Typical solar panels reach a maximum efficiency of 30 per cent. On top of that, most cities don’t have enough space to install massive solar panels where they would be constantly exposed to light.
Quantum dot solar panels promise a 68 per cent efficiency rate and they could turn existing windows into solar panels. Imagine a city where skyscrapers can power themselves with solar panels that you can’t even see. That’s game changing!
Can you tell us about your other field of interest, cultured meat?
I stopped eating beef three years ago because of its environmental impact. Agriculture produces more greenhouse gas than all other forms of transportation combined. To create a sustainable future, I want to find another way to create meat. Cultured meat is grown in a lab, but it’s the exact same biological product. After cells are taken from the animal, scientists feed the cells all the necessary nutrients so they grow. The difference is, cultured meat uses 99 per cent less land, 99 per cent less water and emits 99 per cent less greenhouse gas. I’m really excited for cultured meat to take off. I miss hamburgers!
Is there a connection between your various projects?
If you break it down, energy and agriculture are responsible for most of the world’s greenhouse gases. I searched for technologies that could completely transform these industries. Both quantum dots and cultured meat could revolutionise the way we produce energy and food without creating any harmful byproducts. I chose to work with quantum dots and cellular agriculture because those technologies can make the biggest impact on climate change.
What motivates you to succeed?
I’m really grateful that I’ve had the opportunity and resources to start this young because it’s given me a significant leg up. I realised that I needed to start young during my first session at The Knowledge Society when I heard: “In order to achieve unconventional success, you have to take an unconventional path.” If I want to crack climate change, I can’t wait until I’m 30.
This article was originally written and published for Mercedes-Benz Group AG.
By Markus Hüfner