Jovana V. Milić from the Serbian town of Petrovac na Mlavi is one of 25 young researchers honored with the Green Talents Award of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research for their contribution to sustainable development. Jovana is recognized for her work on innovative photovoltaic materials, but not in Serbia, since she is currently leading a research group at the Adolphe Merkle Institute of the University of Fribourg in Switzerland.
In an interview with Balkan Green Energy News, Jovana talks about her pioneering work on hybrid organic-inorganic photovoltaic materials, her journey from a small Serbian town to top universities in Switzerland, as well as the benefits solar energy can bring to mankind.
Asked about the significance for her of the German ministry’s award, which has been handed for 11 years, with only one other laureate from Serbia, Jovana says that the award honors early-career researchers across the globe for their high potential and innovative contributions to sustainable development.
“It is significant as it recognizes my research in renewable energy as well as science outreach activities, providing opportunities to further develop and create broader impact while contributing to long-term sustainability globally,” says Jovana.
From a high school in Požarevac to a prestigious institute in Switzerland
Jovana went to elementary school in Petrovac na Mlavi, and was the valedictorian at both her high school in the city of Požarevac and the Faculty of Chemistry of the University of Belgrade. During her studies, she took part in several research projects, including one at a university in Houston, Texas.
As a participant in research programs at Petnica Science Center in Serbia, she realized that her scientific interests were interdisciplinary, especially in the field of physical chemistry.
Working with pioneers of new-generation solar cells
She obtained her MSc and PhD from the ETH Zürich university in Switzerland. After successfully defending her PhD thesis in 2017, Jovana gave a lecture on molecular machines at a conference dedicated to laureates of the Nobel Prize for chemistry, held in Groningen, the Netherlands.
Jovana continued her work as a postdoctoral researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), as part of a group of pioneers of new-generation solar cells, led by Professor Michael Graetzel.
“During three years of work, I contributed to the development of new hybrid materials for solar cells,” says Jovana, who is still a mentor to EPFL students. Her success has been recognized with prestigious awards, such as the CAS Future Leaders 2019 award and a spot (the element Db) on the Periodic Table of Younger Chemists of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC).
Since September 2020, Jovana has led a research group focusing on supramolecular materials for energy conversion and sustainable development at the Adolphe Merkle Institute, a research center specializing in nanotechnologies, particularly materials inspired by nature.
She is also the Swiss delegate and team leader at the European Young Chemists’ Network, as well as an active member of the International Younger Chemists Network, which is dedicated to initiatives that support early-career chemists around the world, such as the ChemVoices project.
Jovana’s brief biography with more details has recently been published in ACS Energy Letters – Women Scientists at the Forefront of Energy Research.
Improving performances of hybrid photovoltaic materials
A new class of hybrid organic-inorganic materials has emerged over the past decade as one of the leading photovoltaic technologies with remarkable performances. However, Jovana explains, these materials feature instabilities under environmental and operation conditions (e.g. air, moisture, voltage, light) that hamper their practical application.
“My research contributes to addressing the challenges associated with their instability by relying on an unprecedented “supramolecular” approach that mimics some of the strategies for controlling material functions in nature,” says Jovana.
This versatile approach can enhance the stability without compromising the photovoltaic performances, providing an important step towards viable photovoltaic technologies based on hybrid perovskites as well as other sustainable nanotechnologies.
The award provides unique opportunities to exchange with the relevant experts in Germany and abroad
“I am grateful for the Green Talents award for providing unique opportunities to exchange with the relevant experts in Germany and abroad. I expect that this program will offer a wider perspective on the sustainability efforts while strengthening interdisciplinary collaborations as part of a global community of young talents, experts and influencers. This provides more hope for a sustainable future to which I am eager to contribute!”
Solar energy has the potential to transform people’s lives
Jovana says that solar energy has the potential to transform the lives of people across the globe by providing a highly affordable and renewable energy source. The photovoltaic technologies thereby contribute to suppressing the use of fossil fuels that have profoundly affected climate change, she notes.
“To this end, accelerating the developments towards more cost-effective and versatile photovoltaic technologies as well as their integration into various aspects of our society (from building-integrated photovoltaics and smart windows to self-powered devices) could be truly transformative,” she says.
Jovana adds, however, that more innovation is required to make these technologies truly sustainable and well-integrated into our society. “This involves a continuous interdisciplinary effort at the interface of chemistry, physics, material science, and engineering, which is at the core of my scientific interests, stimulating my involvement,” she says.