James Henry Pikul, a Department of Energy Fellowship recipient, works on increasing the power density of miniature lithium ion batteries to make what he calls high-power lithium ion microbatteries. With assistance from MatSE professor Paul Braun, he creates novel nanoarchitectures to reduce the diffusion length and electrical resistance in the electrodes and electrolyte. The results are batteries with reduced ion transfer times that achieve 2,000 times the power density of previous microbatteries.
A miniature power source like Pikul's high-power lithium ion microbattery can be applied to mobile electronics and implants for medical devices, among other small electronic devices. With high-power densities in the batteries, users can send further signals, make speakers up to a thousand times louder, and charge batteries in ten seconds as opposed to an hour.
"Let's say you have an implanted medical device and something bad happens to you, you can send a signal throughout your entire house," Pikul said, "as opposed to something that is just on your wrist."
Pikul is in his third year of working on high-power lithium battery research and plans on continuing the same research until he graduates.
"My interests are nanotechnology and micro technology," Pikul said. "I think there is a really bright future for those technologies, also those technologies are pretty broad."
To future applicants for the DoE Fellowship, he suggests applying whether or not the individual thinks he or she will win.
"I think just applying to fellowships, even if you don’t get them it's so rewarding," Pikul said. "It allows you to iron your thoughts out in terms of what research you want to pursue, what interests you, and who you are. It is a good exercise to self-reflect."
Pikul mentioned that he applied to the DoE Fellowship for the prestige and also for the support from the fellowship, including the financial stipend.
"It sets you apart nicely from other PhD candidates," Pikul said. "It's an award."
As for the future after his studies, Pikul is considering pursuing academia at a top-tier institution if possible. However, he would like to make time to open and own his own business just as his father does now.
"I want to end up in business. It’s my goal. The sooner the better," Pikul said. "My goal was to leave after being an undergraduate and maybe work or get an MBA. Then I had this internship and talked to a bunch of professors. All those experiences combined made me think, yes, I should try graduate school out."