Python & Xtralien Workshop with EPSRC New & Sustainable PV CDT

Posted on Thu, Jan 26, 2017 by Ashley Wong

Ossila is proud to provide industrial support for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) Centre for Doctoral Training in New and Sustainable Photovoltaics (CDT-PV). As part of our collaboration, Dr. Rob Treharne, Academic Manager of the CDT-PV, invited us to host a Python workshop last week for their 3rd cohort of first-year PhD students. This was the second consecutive year that we collaborated with the CDT-PV to host such a workshop. The 1-day workshop was held at the University of Sheffield's Department of Physics, and Dr. Nick Scarratt and Jack Stephenson from Ossila were on hand at the workshop for the second year in a row.

Due to its user-friendliness and clear syntax structure, Python is a high-level programming language that is hugely popular in the scientific community. The CDT-PV needed to teach its 3rd batch of cohorts Python, which is what Ossila use in our Xtralien X100 source-measure unit and many of the related systems that are built with it. Dr. Treharne had already been wanting to include the Xtralien X100 as part of the CDT-PV training – so a collaboration between both parties was a brilliant opportunity to hit two birds with one stone.

The workshop was split into two segments: the morning segment was a lecture-based training session on the basics of Python code and programming; the afternoon segment was an interactive tutorial session. Ossila designed this workshop to teach the CDT-PV students some of the real-world applications of scientific Python, and give them a hands-on opportunity to practise the theoretical knowledge they had gained in the morning.


Xtralien Python scientific tutorial workshop CDT-PV
Left: Dr. Treharne & Jack engaging in an animated discussion about Python. Right: Nick guiding a PhD student in using Python with the Xtralien X100 to light up & characterise an LED.


By the end of the workshop, the CDT-PV students had successfully learned how to use Python to control the Xtralien X100 to electrically characterise a light-emitting diode (in less than a day's training). This was very impressive, as we assumed no prior knowledge of Python coding, and most students had not used it before. To Ossila, this was a very promising result as we are striving to empower researchers to program their own experiments.

Dr. Treharne had a few words to say about the collaboration:

Every year, each new cohort is different in terms of the students’ individual personalities and their projects. It’s always a challenge to make sure that the training we give them will be relevant. However, with this Python & Xtralien X100 workshop, I can walk away confidently knowing that this will benefit each and every one of them.”

Nick was pleased at the outcome of the workshop:

I think that the workshop was more effective this year, as I’m more confident in my knowledge of Python & the Xtralien X100's capabilities (compared to last year). Getting everyone (in today’s workshop) to the same level has been the biggest challenge, because they were all using different operating systems and code editors prior to this. However, once the students started seeing tangible results, they were encouraged by this and started experimenting more. Today’s experience has shown me which parts of Ossila’s online guide could use improvement – the goal is to get it to the point where someone could refer solely to the guide and still feel like they had an actual person there with them, guiding them through.”

We at Ossila sincerely enjoy collaboration opportunities like this, as they are mutually beneficial and allow us to strengthen ties with the academic community. PhD students get to learn practical applications that can aid their research, and see how science works in a business context. For us, we gain valuable user feedback to consider when improving current or developing new products. We enjoy being challenged by agile young minds with fresh perspectives, as it keeps us on our toes!

Author: Ashley Wong

Hailing from a Psychology background, Ashley has an MSc in Organizational/Work Psychology from the Sheffield University Management School. Prior to joining Ossila, Ashley worked with two multi-national organizations, researching emotional labour in the life insurance industry. In 2017, she successfully led the process of writing & applying for a prestigious Institute of Physics Business Innovation Award, which resulted in Ossila winning its first-ever industrial award.