Professor Lesley Yellowlees holding a dye-sensitised solar cell.

I loved science from an early age. I loved doing experiments, loved mathematical challenges, loved problem-solving. I was fortunate to have inspiring science and maths teachers and supportive parents who all encouraged me to study chemistry, physics and maths. I enjoyed science, found it came naturally to me and never hesitated to pursue a career in chemistry.

Professor Lesley Yellowlees

My whole academic career has been at the University of Edinburgh. After graduating I worked in Australia, which is where I first got interested in solar energy. I then returned to the University to study for a PhD on how to convert the energy that comes from the sun into electricity, and this has remained the focus of my research to date. I led a successful research group for many years engaging with fantastic students and wonderful colleagues before taking up senior management roles at Edinburgh. One of the highlights of my academic career was when I became the President of the Royal Society of Chemistry – their first woman President in 170 years.

Many people are surprised that solar energy has a part to play in Scotland but, in fact, we get more than enough sunlight for solar energy to be an important component of our renewable energy portfolio – witness the increasing number of solar panels on roofs. There’s still plenty of research to be done, not only in turning sunlight into electricity and making it an efficient process using cheap, readily-available
chemicals, but also in being able to store this energy so that we can use it during the night when the sun isn’t shining.

Lesley is holding a dye-sensitised solar cell as prepared in Professor Neil Robertson’s research lab. The dark circle contains an organic dye to absorb the sunlight sandwiched between conducting glass to transfer the generated electrons.