Posted on 27 Apr 09:32
If you've been a regular reader of our blog, you may have noticed that we recently featured a couple of casual interviews with the faces behind Ossila Ltd (e.g. with our Customer Service Administrator, Rosie, and our Excilight PhD student, Marco). Due to the positive reception these articles have garnered, we decided to run a 2-part interview series called "Meet the Ossila Directors", which will feature our Board Directors!
To start things off, we took the time to have a chat with the Chairman of Ossila, Prof. David Lidzey. Aside from being on Ossila’s Executive Board, David is also a Professor of Physics at the University of Sheffield. In this interview, David shares some anecdotes from his professional journey so far, as well as some personal insights.
Q: Can you tell me a bit about your role at the University of Sheffield?
A: Well, I'm a Professor of Physics, and the Head of the Electronic & Photonic Molecular Materials (EPMM) research group. I supervise PhD students & postdocs, and try to coordinate materials physics research in the Physics Department here at Sheffield. The research that EPMM is doing falls into 2 main areas. The first is applied research on the applications of semiconducting materials. In particular, we're interested in new thin-film semiconductors, such as conjugated polymers and perovskites, developing high-efficiency photovoltaic devices, and understanding how those materials work. We do a lot of work with chemists, particularly in the Department of Chemistry. They make new materials for us, so we're a part of a wider network of researchers in the University of Sheffield.
We also work on photonics and new materials in emerging optical applications. We put thin-films of organic semiconductors into optical cavity devices, and look at the interactions of the electronic states of the molecules with the electromagnetic environment around them. We're trying to develop new types of lasers, optical devices, or even try to create new types of optical states. Our interest there is much more in the basic physics, rather than in the application. I suppose I've always worked at the interface between Physics and Chemistry, and that has been a long-term interest of mine.
Q: How does that tie into your role at Ossila?
A: Ossila sits very much at the interface between Physics and Chemistry, so my background allows me to understand the different materials that we sell and the wants of the different customers that come to Ossila. When working in academia, the challenge is always to be state-of-the-art - to actually understand what's going on around you, which is a big challenge. Working in industry comes with different challenges; identifying who your customers are, and trying to provide great products for them.
Q: Can you tell me about the strategies you employed to overcome these challenges, and any lessons you may have learned along the way?
A: I think that with Ossila, the strategy has been to try to understand what people want, and try and scope out new products for them. The strategy now is to try and figure out where the market is, and where we could actually fit into that market. As a company, we're getting much better in making a rigorous analysis to understand what kind of products we should invest in. It's been a long road to get there, and is still a road that we're travelling on. We've had products which we thought were going to sell very well, but didn't; and others that we've developed that turned out to be huge sellers - sometimes rather unexpectedly!
Q: To get to where you are now, what has your journey been like?
A: When I left University, I was looking for various opportunities. I had an interest in photography, and was also interested in Chemistry at school. A job came up at Kodak in London, and to me that seemed to combine my different interests together. So, I worked for a couple of years in Kodak's analytical department, helping to develop new photography products. But then I felt I needed a real challenge, and decided to go back to University to do a PhD. An opportunity came up to work in a field of research called organic electronics, which was young & emerging at that point. I got to work with firefly proteins, and explored making new types of optical devices using biological materials. At the time, it was very forward looking, although completely impractical!
Doing that was one of the things that inspired my interest in polymers and polymer electronics. A lot of the stuff that I've done has grown out of previous interests. It has been a case of being in the right place at the right time! I think that happens to everybody really, you just have to be flexible and open to possibilities.
Q: What's most important to you in your role at Ossila?
A: As I sit on the executive board of Ossila, the mission and vision matter most to me. The mission matters in terms of making the right decisions, that the financials of the company are always sound, and that we provide good service and products at a price that people will pay.
The vision is also very important in terms of where we're going next. We started out as a company serving a market in organic electronics, which was a reasonable place to start because that was the area in which we had the most experience. But having a certain level of adaptability is crucial. It all comes down to being able to work out where those new markets are and what products are needed to serve those new markets.
Q: Which Ossila product are you most proud of?
A: I wouldn't like to claim any credit for it, because it's James (Kingsley, MD) and the team that put things together - but I think the Spin Coater is a flagship product that has exceeded expectations. It's done so well because of what it can do at a really competitive price, and has opened up new markets.
Q: Has there been anyone you considered as a role model in your earlier years?
A: My uncle Ray - he was very much a role model! He was a chemist who analysed materials for the government at their chemistry labs in London, but he was also a model engineer. He built model steam engines in his spare time, and did chemistry during his work time. I always found what he was doing very interesting, and he was a big influence on me.
Q: What are some of your interests outside of work?
A: I'm very keen on plants & growing things. I've got an allotment! I like going there in the winter, and that's actually when a lot of the hard work gets done - digging the land and cutting down hedges. I'm trying to grow things that stagger the harvest throughout the year. I grow a lot of basic stuff like potatoes and onions, but also things like kale, spinach, leeks and beetroot. Stuff that you've grown yourself tastes much better than stuff that you buy. If you've got vegetables growing, you tend to eat more vegetables than if you didn't have them available! I also recently started playing cricket. I like air-cooled VW engines as well - I've got a VW camper van, and I like spending time mucking around with that. I've been going out camping in it to see bits of Britain, and been working to restore it as well. It's a long-term project that's a bit of a money sink, really!