News & Events

Master's students receive awards from new departmental research fund

February 12, 2014

Three students have received grants from a new Department of Chemical Engineering initiative to encourage research by its graduate students.

The students are:

  • Brian Shen, whose project involves "Developing Hydrolytically Stable Artificial SEIs for Si Anodes in Lithium Ion Batteries,"
  • Xunzhi Li, "Functionalizing and Nanopatterning Oxide-free Silicon to Manufacture Biological Probes"
  • Puja Jain, "Analyzing Stochastic Network Models on Complex Networks"

Each received a grant of $5,000.

The initiative provides competitive research awards to students pursuing a master's degree with thesis in chemical engineering or alternative energy.

"We have many more master's students than in prior years who want to do research," explained Gina Eagan, the department's Graduate Program Coordinator. "With external funding very competitive now, this fund is a way to provide a further incentive to faculty and students."

The application form can be found here. Applications are reviewed by a faculty committee headed by Wyatt Tenhaeff, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering.

"This new program reflects the department's emphasis on training graduate students in original research," Tenhaeff said. "In addition to this training, the program provides the initial seed funding required to explore innovative ideas and acquire key preliminary data needed for subsequent grant proposals."

Puja Jain, who is from Mumbai, India, is pursuing her master's in alternative energy. She was "very happy" to hear about her award. "I thank the ChemE Department."

She will do her project under the supervision of Eldred Chimowitz, Professor of Chemical Engineering. "It concerns Smart Grid Analysis of complex power networks that might, in the long run, help with integrating intermittent renewable energy sources into the conventional energy systems to provide consistent performances," Jain explained. "We are planning to develop a demonstrative stochastic network model and analyze the stochastic dynamics with the simulations carried out computationally using the Monte Carlo method."

"I believe that commercializing sustainable renewables is the ideal way to overcome the environmental and health problems we face," she added. "There are ample opportunities to pursue research in this field and I look forward to the same."

Xunzhi Li's project, "Functionalizing and Nanopatterning Oxide-free Silicon to Manufacture Biological Probes," will be done in conjunction with Assistant Prof. Alex Shestapolov's research group in Chemical Engineering and Prof. Lewis Rothberg's group in Chemistry. "Detection of biomolecules is now playing an important role in medical screening and discovery efforts in genomics and proteomics." Li said. "But there are some problems during the detection on the silicon; for example, the probe is not stable in the target solution."

Li, who is from China, said it is "very exciting" to receive funding to try to solve these problems. "This is the first time I will have funding to do my own project."

This is Li's second semester at the University. "The UR gives me a lot of opportunities to explore research and make friends from different countries," Li said.

Shen, who is from Walnut Creek, Calif., will be working with Assistant Prof. Wyatt Tenhaeff of Chemical Engineering to synthesize an artificial solid electrolyte interface (SEI) – or protective layer -- that would allow use of silicon, rather than graphite, for the anodes in lithium batteries. Silicon can hold a much higher charge per unit mass, and would result in much more powerful batteries.

Unfortunately, silicon's natural SEI is unstable and does not protect the silicon well from water and other sources of damage, which is further exacerbated by silicon expanding as much as 300 percent during charging. Shen's proposal is to synthesize a protective layer of silicon-carbon bonds that "will not only help to provide a more stable SEI despite any volume expansion, but also will help to protect the silicon anode from water."

Shen said the $5,000 award will greatly help with expenses, including travel and registration for conferences, and renting instruments and purchasing supplies, "which can rack up quite an expense."

"It's a nice feeling to know that I'm one of the first students to be awarded the grant," Shen added. "It's also great to see that the department is really pushing for research and is looking out for the best interest of students and faculty alike."