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Monday, 08 February 2021

Dr. Sonia Ruiz Raga is awarded by L'Oréal-UNESCO "For Women In Science" programme

Dr. Sonia Ruiz Raga has been awarded today by the L'Oréal-UNESCO "For Women in Science" programme. She recently joined the ICN2 through the "la Caixa" Junior Leaders programme and dreams about creating a product to generate renewable energy, commercializing it and seeing it used on everyday life.

In the context of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science to be celebrated next February 11th, L’Oréal-UNESCO “For Women In Science” programme has awarded 5 prizes to projects developed by Spanish researchers under the age of 40. With 21 years of history, this award has supported 72 women scientists so far. This year the celebration takes place in a context marked by the health and economic crisis of COVID-19, where the development of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) has proven to be more necessary than ever. This year the program also launches the #QueremosCiencia campaign to make the need for these disciplines visible in the digital environment.

Among the award-winning researchers is Dr. Sonia Ruiz Raga, from the ICN2 Nanostructured Materials for Photovoltaic Energy group led by Prof. Mónica Lira Cantú, who researchs in new methods to obtain and accumulate renewable energy. Specifically, she is researching to create new perovskite devices for converting sunlight to clean energy in an effective, cheap, durable, and sustainable way. Renewable energy with green hydrogen, knowledge of the universe, of the earth and early detection of diseases, are other fields of research of this year's winners.

Dr. Ruiz has recently joined the ICN2 through the "la Caixa" Junior Leaders programme. The awarded project is 2Solar2, centered in the development of photovoltaic technology with new hybrid materials, non-lead double perovskite for this energy conversion. The "L'Oréal- UNESCO Women in Science" programme's organization got to know her a little bit more, here we have her story based on an interview. 

"The final goal is creating light conversion gadgets to clean energy that are efficient, cheap, durable and, on top of that, sustainable with the environment. The obtention of clean energy is now a priority, nearly an emergency, as is proved by the recent commitment of the European Union of reducing a 55% the emissions in the next nine years. This compromise is very ambitious and we need all help possible contributing to achieve it.”

Sonia Ruiz Raga (Catalonia, 1986) always knew that her life would be linked to science. Being a child, her first approach to science was through her books about minerals, fossils and astronomy that she “read almost every day. Memorizing each name and characteristics fascinated me”. “My parents gave me these books and even a microscope and science games to promote my curiosity. Once, a relative with palaeontology notions took me to collect fossils in the countryside. That experience was great, really marked me as a scientist’, she remembers.

She graduated in Chemical Engineering at University Jaume I of Castelló (Spain). At the end of her degree, she attended a talk at the University about colorant solar cells and was very interested about dedicating her work to something as important as renewable energies, “that made me feel really useful to society”. And remembers: “I went to talk with the Professor that gave the talk and enrolled in a master to work at his research laboratory”. She entered the academia world and in 2013 defended her PhD thesis about solar cells of colorant molecules in that same University.

After that she did two postdoctoral fellowships; four years at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (Japan) and three years at Monash University (Australia), in which she amplified her investigation relating to solar energy and perovskite materials, including numerous international collaborations. She also has published 44 papers in high impact scientific journals, five patents and a book chapter.

Sonia remembers the most satisfactory moment of her career at the start of 2020, when she was granted the competitive research scholarship Junior Leader Incoming of “La Caixa” Foundation that enabled her to come back from abroad to establish herself in Spain. What’s more, she was selected for the interview phase for leader of a research group in two of the best centres of excellency Severo Ochoa of Spain related to her research area. “Now my plans in the near future are consolidating my own research group to continue developing materials for free energy, like the photovoltaic or the hydrogen”, she adds.

Her research is directly related with the development of third generation photovoltaic energy (3G-PV), with the objective of creating light conversion gadgets to clean energy that are efficient, cheap, durable and, on top of that, sustainable with the environment. “Obtaining clean energy is now a priority, nearly an emergency, as is proved by the recent commitment of the European Union of reducing a 55% the emissions in the next nine years. This compromise is very ambitious and we need all the possible help to achieve it”, she explains.

3G-PV technology has several advantages: it is easy to manufacture, does not need of a large inversion to establish factories and the processing cost is low. That is the reason why an industry could be easily created in Europe for its fabrication, what would lead to the creation of numerous working positions. “This contrasts with the current Chinese monopoly with the silicon photovoltaic technology that requires very expensive and specialized industries”, she ascertains.

Her future dream: “to create a product that generates renewable energy, commercialize it and see it used on everyday life, helping to reduce the use of fossils fuels, needed for the planet conservation.

Women in science

The Catalan believes that, despite some relevant advances, “there is still much effort to do to achieve equality, especially in high responsibility positions as group leaders or directive roles”.

Nevertheless, she explains she was lucky to work in places where she has been respected and treated as an equal both in Australia and Japan, where “I was the only postdoctoral woman in a group of more than ten men and never had any problem. I think that we are approaching something similar to equality. All the same, I think there are still many little details and “microsexism” that are difficult to identify at the moment. They are little details nearly inoffensive but that at large can become damaging”. That is the reason why Sonia encourages to the young female researchers to have contact with more experienced ones to help them identify these cases.