In the picturesque and illustrious surroundings of the University of Oxford, Dr David McMeekin is immersed in an exciting new chapter of his scientific journey.
David was among the first generation of Exciton Science members, working with Professor Udo Bach at Monash University from 2018 to 2022, and helping to establish the Centre’s reputation for research impact and inclusive culture.
Originally from Canada, David was also a Research Fellow with the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP) during his time in Melbourne.
A graduate of the University of Ottawa and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, he’s now back in the United Kingdom, working with world-leading photovoltaics researcher Professor Henry Snaith.
“After leaving the Centre, I came back to Oxford where I did my PhD and I came back for a Marie Curie Fellowship," he said.
"It's a very prestigious, amazing fellowship. You have to write your own grant proposal and try to conduct the research. It's a stepping-stone to further career paths and a great fellowship to have.”
As a member of the Snaith group, David is at the forefront of global research to develop the next generation of renewable energy materials.
“I'm working on perovskite solar cells, with a focus on finding a material or an arrangement of molecules and atoms that can form into structured material, which can then be integrated seamlessly with silicon,” he said.
“By combining these two materials, we can eventually increase the efficiency of our solar panels.
“We’re doing high-risk, high-reward materials discovery research, and there's some industries that are now starting to commercialise this material.”
For David, the journey of discovery isn’t confined to the lab. It extends to his personal experiences, having lived and worked across three continents.
“It’s very exciting and scary at the same time,” he said.
“There's curiosity and excitement, but also fear of leaving behind your family and friends. Then, you create new connections, discover new places, and learn new things. And I think that's really why people stay in academia for this long.”
While Oxford boasts a rich academic legacy, stepping into such a world-renowned institution wasn't without its challenges.
“You're scared that you're not smart enough, to be at the PhD level,” he said, reflecting on his first spell at the UK’s oldest university.
“Everyone is in the same boat, but you end up learning a lot and eventually become more confident. You definitely do have the imposter syndrome a lot of the time when working in a research group or in a PhD, certainly here.”
David’s time at Exciton Science holds a special place in his heart, a sentiment shared by many of his fellow Centre alumni.
“The Centre made it possible to bring researchers to Australia and connect Australia to the rest of the world,” he said.
“People were so welcoming. It was kind of a small family.”
As for the challenge of making the move ‘Down Under’, he took everything in his stride: “Thankfully there was no language barrier. The weather was very warm, but I felt very welcome in Australia.”
However, the COVID-19 pandemic posed unforeseen challenges.
"If I had left, I wouldn’t have been able to return on my visa,” he said.
“That swayed my decision to come back and spend some time living in the Northern Hemisphere to see my family, who I hadn’t seen in years.”
As for what the future holds, David remains focused but is open to possibilities. “Right now I’m concentrating on my fellowship. I wouldn’t necessarily be against going back to industry, but I definitely want to be involved in research.”
David is a passionate researcher, always curious, and willing to embrace new challenges and opportunities. Like so many of Exciton Science members past and present, his story highlights the beauty of scientific pursuit and personal growth through a career in research.