For local Canberran Bennett Schneider, living off-the-grid for close to 10 years helped him develop a strong interest in renewable energy, and the engineering behind it.
Bennett graduated this year with a Bachelor of Engineering (Research and Development) and a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Renewable Energy Systems and Physics, with a specialisation in Photonics (the study of light).
In the renewable energy major, you not only learn about engineering concepts, but you also gain a broad understanding of how renewable energy fits into society; the economics behind it, and the arguments for and against this energy source. It's shown me that it really is one of the big problems of this age.
As part of the R&D program, Bennett undertook research from his second year onwards.
My second year R&D project involved using mathematical modelling to trace the paths of light rays of different energies. This modelling was used to estimate the effectiveness of the design of a new type of solar cell, as a possible avenue for future research.
This project culminated after almost a year and a half, and the results were promising enough to be published in the scientific journal, Optics Express.
After this, with a newfound interest in the application of photonics to solar energy, Bennett was awarded the Wanda Henry Scholarship in Photonics.
This scholarship afforded me the honour to associate with many prominent scientists at ANU, in particular the late John Love - an early pioneer of optical fibre communication technology.
The financial assistance provided through the scholarship also helped Bennett go on exchange to Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, where he studied nanophotonics, laser physics, and renewable energy.
Academically, it was great to be able to study in a different format with a different focus to what I was working on at ANU. I proved to myself that though I have lived in Canberra nearly my whole life, I could function away from home, do well in my studies, whilst also having heaps of fun. I pursued my passion for rock climbing and the outdoors, travel, and made many close, lasting friendships.
At times, exchange can be a very difficult experience, both logistically and emotionally. However, the experiences you have, the things you learn, and the friends and connections you make are worth the effort.
Since returning from Scotland, Bennet is currently working at a renewable energy start-up based in the ACT. He's also found himself doing something completely unexpected: co-founding a tech start-up.
Pixelated Induction Pty. Ltd. has been founded by me and three fellow Engineering R&D students (two of which are now graduates).
We are developing a type of wireless charging system for smartphones. This idea came directly out of one of the core engineering courses, Engineering Innovation.
Much of the real-world development (and funding) was courtesy of the ANU-sponsored program, Innovation ACT. This program has given us the resources to pursue our idea, and develop it into a commercial product.
My ANU systems engineering knowledge has been an asset, but the experiences gained from establishing a start-up enterprise is teaching me that there is much to learn. This is ok, because the most important thing ANU will teach you is how to think.