July 16, 2014
My time in Singapore is limited to just 2 weeks. I can’t stop wondering where did all that time go? My trip has not been subpar in any aspect. I am very grateful for my experiences in a new country, whether it was integrating into their culture or being brought in by the lab led by Professor Balaya.
These last few weeks have been building upon the previous data collected. We have tested over 15 solvent combinations and now have decent data to support some of the hypotheses concluded, but it won’t be thoroughly convincing with just the data we are retrieving. To be more credible my mentor has mentioned using a Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) Spectrophotometer. The FTIR can do chemical analysis on the counter/reference electrode, and provide information that will help describe why the phenomenon is occurring. We met with Professor Balaya to see if we can purchase the machine (~S$32,000), but it seems that it won’t be a feasible task until early January. This has put a great bind on the project progression because due to the sodium inherent explosiveness, there are not many other machines that can run tests on such a volatile material. For now, we have shelved the project because without a way of explaining the phenomena we are observing, there is not much advantage to continue running tests on solvent mixtures. We have enough data gathered to support our claims, but without a deeper explanation at an atomic and chemical level, this paper won’t be a very good one.
For now, I am compiling all the files, and making more plots, just in case it comes up again. I am creating plots for my own sake when the symposium comes around and for my mentor, in case he ever wants to quickly prepare a PowerPoint presentation to show his colleagues. Also, we have been looking into another factor that may be limiting the performance of these cells: the binder. The binder is what holds the active material to the aluminum foil for our electrodes. We have been using PVDF for the most part, but recently started using CMC, which has shown better results in terms of capacity and less degradation. This is the focus for my last few weeks left in Singapore.
As far as my adventures go, I was able to get an extra day off from work last week, and took a journey to Vietnam and Cambodia. I must say it was an incredible experience. I got to visit Ha Long Bay and Angkor Wat, two of the wondrous mysteries of the world. Here’s a photo to show my proof:
June 23, 2014
I’ve entered my fourth week in Singapore and am starting to get acclimated into their society (or so it feels like it). My sleep schedule is once again normal, my work schedule is consistent, and I have fallen into a daily routine!
My research at NUS has become quite demanding after 2 weeks of training and prep. Now I start my day in the lab around 10 am and finish as late as 8 pm sometimes, and once out of lab, there is data analysis or reading to do. Lots of reading I might say. Most of it is self-motivated reading, but that is only because I’m way behind on all of the latest revelations in battery research. I’ve been reading material science papers, papers on cathodes, others on anodes, and more specific to my work, papers on electrolytes.
Without giving away too much information (don’t want to sabotage my PI’s paper), my mentor, Ashish Rudola, has noticed a new phenomenon in half-cells (just an anode or cathode with a reference) that hasn’t been mentioned before. To add on to this project he had me first fabricate the same salt in different mixtures and concentrations of solvents to see how that affects the new phenomenon. After that we decided to try it on different salts in the same solvent concentration (EC:PC (1:1 v/v)). Each of these tests take days depending on what kind of loading cycle we use.
After having run through the first and second rounds of tests, Ash asked me to come up with a cohesive power point to sum up what we are seeing and then present it to the professor. I was at a disadvantage because NUS students and faculty get the luxury of having a data analysis program called Origin but due to my circumstances (late paperwork means you’re not given this benefit) I was forced to find a creative solution or stay in the lab for hours into the night. I have matlab on my computer, and after hours of reading and toying around, I came up with a program to get what I want from the data. Though it took two nights of staying up all night, I felt proud of my accomplishments by first using a different language to get the same plots, and second just for helping my mentor out because that is why I’m here in the first place.
For the weekend, I met up with the other Berkeley students here, and we set off to James St., an outdoor venue with a huge projector to play the soccer games. There were people of all nationalities supporting their team (Singapore is a very touristy country), and it was very exciting as well as entertaining. It was definitely a nice break from work, but I appreciate the moment when Monday comes and we’re back to the lab because everyday is something different and my mentor is so close to having everything he needs for another paper. Who knows, maybe my plots will be used for more than just the future Energy Core Symposium.
June 11, 2014
After a 24-hour trek, I finally made it to Singapore. It was 5 minutes short of midnight when I arrived at Changi Airport. It might have been the most luxurious airport I have ever seen: the carpet rugs were stylish and clean, the architecture was more modern than some of the top hotels, the lights and decoration made the building shine bright.
There were multiple people to lead me in the right direction and lucky me that the official language of Singapore is in fact English (even though it’s heavily accented due to Indian or Chinese dialects)! Customs was a breeze because of the U.S.-Singapore visa waiver, and before I headed towards the exit I stopped at the currency exchanger. I was heart broken when they told me the exchange rate was $1.22 Singaporean dollars to $1 American. ‘There goes my stipend,’ I thought to myself.
I caught a taxi to the National University of Singapore (NUS). After an hour of logistics at 2 am, I was finally given a room. The culture in this country was much different than that of the U.S.; in the States, dorms are usually with roommates where at NUS, they are isolated and small with their own tightly packed bathroom.
I didn’t get to sleep much during the night due to the jet lag, so I was antsy for my day to begin. I emailed my hosting professor (the wifi at the university is great) and he invited me to visit him around 11 am. To pass the free time I went to visit the university. If it’s not as big as Berkeley it sure is close because the campus in ginormous. The humidity made me feel extremely sticky and I was even debating on going back home to shower to seem more presentable, but time did not permit.
Professor Bayala was so welcoming and great. His description of the battery research being done at his lab made me excited to start. He convinced my sodium ion batteries are the future, especially in large-scale ups such as grid storage and car batteries. Also at the meeting was my new supervisor, PhD student Ashish Rudola. I’ve been in the lab for over a week now, and Ash is extremely hands on and helpful. He has showed me the entire process of cell making, from half-cells to full, testing different electrodes and electrolytes. It is perfect timing because Ash just had another of his papers (his fifth) published this week, so everything is ramped up.
My designated task is in testing the influence of different electrolytes on sodium ion cell performance. What that means is basically testing different salts mixed in different solvents, and seeing which give us the best performance. The cell fabrication is still done by Ash or the technician, Mr. Chu, for now, but the testing and data extraction is my task.
It’s been only a week and I feel like I have absorbed so much knowledge as it is. I can only hope to get better at my task and start formulating my own theories to explain different phenomenon we are seeing in the cells already.
As the weekend came along, I was ready to start my explorations and coincidentally when I was walking towards the MRT (public transport system that’s a million times better than the Bart), I ran into some Berkeley students who are here on a different program!
We went to all the sight seeing places Singapore offered: Chinatown, Little India, Haji Lane, Arts Center, Marina Bay Sands Hotel (infinity pool on the roof), Gardens by the Bay, the Merlion, and more. The architecture, cleanliness, and just all around beauty of Singapore are remarkable. I found a newfound respect for this country.
Sunday night, we regroup to relax and have a so-called family dinner. We had chicken drumsticks with sautéed vegetables and two kinds of pasta made by our very own Ed Blakely and Kenia Lazo. Just in those two days it felt like so much happened. I’m looking forward to what the next 8 weeks have in hold for us ☺