We research new materials and work to understand their properties for next-generation energy storage and conversion systems.


Prof. McDowell

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Vision

Our research goal is to understand how materials behave and transform in real-life environments within energy devices, which will enable us to engineer improved materials for new energy technologies.

The importance of observing dynamic Processes

In energy devices (for example, batteries, fuel cells, photocatalytic systems, and electrolyzers), mass transport, high temperatures, reactive environments, and mechanical stresses are the norm. Materials in these systems are not static; instead, they often change, transform, or degrade in response to these operating conditions.

Our research group focuses on using in situ experimental techniques to probe materials transformations under realistic conditions, and we seek to understand how such changes influence properties. These fundamental scientific advances guide the engineering of materials for breakthrough new energy devices.

Students and other researchers in the group synthesize materials, analyze their properties, and utilize a variety of in situ characterization methods to understand dynamic structure and chemistry. This information is then understood in the context of the material’s behavior within devices.

Current Projects

1. Phase transformation mechanisms in next-generation battery materials

Next-generation batteries require materials with higher charge storage capacity, or they require the development of new materials for entirely new battery systems beyond lithium-ion (for example, sodium-ion or multivalent batteries). The reaction and phase transformation mechanisms of new materials determine how much charge they can store and how long they last within batteries.

It is critical to understand these reaction mechanisms across multiple length scales (from the atomic scale to the mesoscale) within battery electrodes. We use powerful in situ experimental techniques, including transmission electron microscopy, x-ray diffraction, and x-ray spectroscopy methods, to reveal structural, chemical, and morphological transformations in real time.








2. Understanding dynamic interfaces

It is necessary to understand and control processes at solid-solid and solid-liquid interfaces when using nanomaterials in energy applications (as well as many other applications). This is due to the divergent structure, chemistry, and properties of interfaces compared to bulk materials.

Our group is working on understanding the evolution of interfaces between electrodes and solid electrolyte materials in solid-state batteries using a variety of in situ techniques. Such interfaces can be chemically unstable, and they can also cause significant impedance in solid-state batteries. In addition, we are studying fundamental interfacial interactions in transition metal dichalcogenide materials.








3. Controlling interfacial interactions for fabrication of nanoporous metals

Our group is developing new methods for the low-temperature fabrication and sintering of nanoporous metals. In particular, we are using alkali metals as sintering promoters for synthesis of new nanomaterials.