The University of Newcastle, Australia

Born in Iraq’s economic capital, Basrah, Alaa Al-Ahmad was six years old when his father gave him a Kodak instant camera. From there, his horizons expanded and Alaa became a keen observer. His newly-found hobby of photography further fuelled his interests into power, light, and finally, sustainable energy.

“The camera was spectacular and encouraged me to spend more time gaining basic photography skills like framing and light. It’s amazing, the difference between colour mixing and colour vision and how a hobby can lead one to so many more interests,” Alaa said.

Alaa has always had great interest and admiration for eco-friendly solar energy solutions, and says raising awareness of the global energy crisis is not enough.

Finding alternative low-cost solutions was one of the key goals of Alaa’s Philosophy (Physics) PhD study to achieve sustainable energy. In doing so, he designed and created a 10-coloured, LED-based solar simulator.

“Solar energy not only has the benefit of reducing your electricity bills, it is also a great sustainable, green energy choice,” he said.

Alaa’s dream to build a solar simulator wasn’t without complication, however. A severe thunderstorm produced a power surge that rippled through the University’s physics department, causing serious damage to the simulator. The setback only motivated him further, and Alaa took immediate steps to repair and finish his work.

Now, with his PhD findings already presented in 11 scientific publications, four journals and mentioned in five industry conferences, Alaa said studying at the University of Newcastle provided him with the ability to problem solve, and put him on the path to achieve maximum global impact.

“Coming up with intense, creative concepts is a great thing, but it’s only half the sustainable energy battle. In order to have an impact, we also need to be able to turn those ideas into realities,” he said.

A doting father, and husband to Zainab, Alaa said it would have been impossible for him to finish his PhD without his family’s encouragement. Nevertheless, he found the ultimate balance.

“Studying when you have a family sounds daunting, but with the right mindset, support and organisation, it can be one of the most pleasing things you can do for yourself and your loved ones,” he said.

Alaa works as a Casual Academic and Research Associate for the Priority Research Centre for Organic Electronics at University of Newcastle, teaching the fundamentals of engineering physics in the Faculty of Science.

In the future, he hopes to teach at university level, and continue to develop low-cost technology solutions for making solar a reliable, stable power source for a renewable energy future.

“The energy that we receive from the sun over a single hour is enough to power the Earth for a whole year. If we could harness this incredible power, the global energy crisis can become a thing of the past,” he said.

Alaa will graduate on Monday 16 December at 2pm.

Image of Alaa Al Ahmad

Alaa Al-Ahmad

Alaa Al-Ahmad studies a PhD in Philosophy (Physics) at the University of Newcastle.

Studying when you have a family sounds daunting, but with the right mindset, support and organisation, it can be one of the most pleasing things you can do for yourself and your loved ones.