[Blog #0] Introducing Myself and My Project

Hello, welcome to my blog! My name is Nick, and I am excited to be participating in the Cal Energy Corps program this summer. Since this is my first blog post, I’ll be introducing myself and talking about my plans for the project I will be working on. 

I am currently a rising fourth year student at UC Berkeley, majoring in chemical engineering with a concentration in materials science and technology. I am a native to the Los Angeles area, specifically Hermosa Beach, and I enjoy surfing, biking, and playing baseball for the Cal Club baseball team. Born into the generation that would be tasked with fighting climate change, I have always felt that I needed to find a position where I can contribute to the transition of our energy sources away from fossil fuels. Ever since arriving at Berkeley, I realized I could do this by participating in research. Since one of the main obstacles for transitioning to greener energy sources has actually been limitations in energy storage, I am really interested in investigating materials with the potential for use in next generation battery technologies.

Over the past year, I was able to further my interest in materials research during my time as an undergraduate researcher within the Griffin group in the Molecular Foundry at LBNL. In the group, I had the opportunity to investigate solid-state materials through theoretical and computational methods, specifically by performing ab-initio calculations using density-functional theory (DFT) on topological and half-metallic materials.

This summer, I will be working with Dr. Greg Su at LBNL on a project aiming to gain new insights into advanced membranes for energy applications. For my research project, I will particularly focus on exploring the effects of different counterions in perfluorinated sulfonic-acid (PFSA) ionomers using both x-ray tools and molecular dynamics simulations. Since polymer electrolytes are a promising solution to the limitations of current battery cells, as they provide solid-like stability while maintaining favorable ion transport properties, PFSA ionomers are an especially relevant research area as they are currently the state of the art material for the proton exchange membranes in polymer-electrolyte fuel cells.

Up until this point, I have only ever worked on computational and theoretical materials research, so one of the main things I was hoping to experience this summer was the experimental side of materials research where I could gain some hands-on experience in a laboratory setting. Unfortunately because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the internship was transitioned into being fully remote, so I will likely be unable to do any work inside a lab. However, because I am unable to experimentally perform x-ray scattering and x-ray spectroscopy on physical Nafion (the specific PFSA ionomer we will focus on) to obtain the necessary data, we are planning to use molecular dynamics to simulate the material in order to extract the x-ray data.

I am really excited to be participating in this project for the summer, and it’s looking to be a very challenging but very rewarding experience!