Undergraduates blaze path for research in ASU's newest facility

April 22, 2013

Last fall, Arizona State University opened its newest research and discovery facility: the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV (ISTB 4). ASU’s largest research building, ISTB 4 includes roughly 300,000 square feet of research laboratories, collaboration spaces and public exhibits on the Tempe campus.

Amidst the latest technology and flexible workspaces, ASU undergraduate student researchers are collaborating with professors and graduate students in the innovative new facility. One such student is Bethany Smith. Bethany Smith Download Full Image

Smith, a sophomore majoring in materials science and engineering, works in the lab of Candace Chan, an assistant professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy.

“I love the fact that everything is a bit more open,” says Smith. “There are windows so that you can see what other labs are working on and the general public can look in on what you’re doing. Having these open labs can let other people say ‘Oh hey, there are real people working in there.’”

“The lab and meeting facilities in ISTB4 are great,” says Chan. “Everyone loves it here and we get to interact with faculty from other departments that we normally would not have ever met.”

Smith’s research centers on developing batteries at the nanoscale, a project she has been working on since her freshman year. This research seeks to answer questions about how to make batteries more efficient and maximize their power in a smaller volume.

Currently, Smith is in the preliminary stages of experimenting with the folding of batteries, like the way you might fold a map. Commercial batteries today are rolled into cylinders. Smith’s calculations predict that by splitting the battery’s surface into 35 sections and folding it multiple times rather than rolling it, she can reduce battery size up to 28 times.

So far, Smith has successfully produced one- and two-fold battery prototypes. She plans to continue this method of folding versus rolling while contributing to the larger goal of the research, which is to condense large surface areas of power into smaller volumes while still increasing performance.

“There’s no reason why this new method shouldn’t work, but you have to prove it with research and make sure nothing can go wrong,” she says.

In addition to Smith’s work with batteries, Chan’s student team is investigating water splitting and solar energy, with an overarching theme of sustainable energy.

“Working here, you can actually see some applications for what you’re learning in class,” says Smith. “Doing work in a research setting helps supplement your education in a hands-on way.”

“I believe that part of our job as educators in preparing the next generation of scientists and engineers is not only the teaching that occurs in the classroom, but also the mentoring and teaching of research skills and the scientific thought process,” says Chan. “The former is much more difficult to learn in a formal classroom setting and is better acquired through ‘doing.’”

Many of these undergraduate researchers participate in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative (FURI), a program designed to enhance the education of undergraduate engineering students. Students applying to FURI must first develop a research idea, and with the help of mentors such as Chan, apply for funding to aid in their research, workshops, summaries and symposiums.

In addition to juggling their schoolwork and lab responsibilities, student researchers like Smith may also hold jobs outside of their research. For Smith, this includes a position with Stephen Krause of the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy.

“It can get a little hectic juggling all of these responsibilities,” says Smith. “It’s all about time management.”

“ASU students are great at being engaged and involved in a lot of activities on and off-campus, in addition to excelling academically in their coursework,” says Chan. “Based on the interest and motivation of the student, we can develop the projects to more advanced levels, such as for an honors thesis.”

Smith relishes the opportunities opened to her through Chan’s lab and hopes to continue her work in material sciences in the future. Now considering an internship with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Smith says her eagerness to get involved with undergraduate research as early as possible has only helped her.

“You get a really good relationship with a professor early on,” said Smith. “By the end of my undergraduate career I’ll have been working with Dr. Chan for four years, which is invaluable.”

“Bethany is outstanding. She came to me as a first semester freshman without any lab experience and has developed into a thoughtful and inquisitive researcher,” Chan says. “I am always open to new approaches and ideas from my students. It is fun and rewarding to see them develop into independent scientists.”

Learn about undergraduate research opportunities at http://uresearch.asu.edu

Written by Lorraine Longhi, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development

Allie Nicodemo

Communications specialist, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development


Algae testbed leaders look to solve national energy needs

April 22, 2013

Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP3) members from across the nation descended upon the ASU Polytechnic campus April 15-18 to discuss strategies for advancing research and development of algae-based technologies for biofuels and other valuable co-products. 

Led by the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI) at ASU, representatives from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, Cellana, Touchstone Research Laboratory, Valicor Renewables, California Polytechnic University San Luis Obispo, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Texas at Austin, and Commercial Algae Management have partnered to form ATP3. ATP3 aims to facilitate innovation, empower knowledge creation and accelerate growth of the emergent algal energy industry. Download Full Image

During the kickoff meeting, members of ATP3 strategized how to effectively meet the needs of testbed users across the world and collaboratively produce relevant data and standard analytical and production methods to inform algae-based solutions for the energy, carbon capture and scale-up needs of public and private markets.

“The ATP3 kickoff meeting gave all of the partners of ATP3 a chance to discuss how we will support public and private institutions in finding solutions to the nation's energy challenges,” said Gary Dirks, director of ATP3, and ASU LightWorks, the university initiative that pulls light-inspired research at ASU under one strategic framework. “Working together, we will push the envelope on algae-based sciences and produce usable, sustainable solutions to carbon capture and fuel needs – to name a few.”

The ATP3 project is made possible by a $15 million U.S. Department of Energy competitive grant from its Bioenergy Technologies Office. This funding allows ATP3 to support the operation of existing outdoor algae cultivation systems and produce algae that can be used for real-world solutions such as biofuel.

Partner testbed facilities are located in Arizona, Hawaii, California, Ohio and Georgia.

The ATP3 framework allows partners to work individually within their own institutions or collaboratively, to coordinate analytical and technical support from the larger ATP3 network.

“The framework we are creating at ATP3 is unprecedented,” said John McGowen, Portfolio Manager in ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development’s Project Management Office and Director of Operations and Program Management for ATP3. “By providing closely coordinated, harmonized and objective standards for algal production and biomass compositional analysis protocols across our network of testbed facilities, we will have the ability to reduce the uncertainties around biomass productivity, oil compositional quality and yields.  ATP3 will make these standardized and validated methods, as well as the high impact data from our long term cultivation feedstock trials accessible to the algal biofuels modeling and R&D community.”

The collaborative effort of ATP3 not only serves the group mission to accelerate algae-based research and development, but also helps partner agencies advance their own goals.

"Partnering with industry leaders through the ATP3 framework enables collaboration to more quickly solve underlying challenges in support of commercial algae technology solutions," said Lee Tonkovich, vice president of Research & Development at Heliae LLC, an algae technology company in Gilbert, Ariz.

The ATP3 meeting took place at AzCATI, a hub for research, testing, and commercialization of algae-based products at the Polytechnic Campus. AzCATI provides open test and evaluation facilities for the algae industry and research community. AzCATI is embedded within ASU’s College of Technology and Innovation and is part of the LightWorks initiative, supported by ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development.

For more information about ATP3 visit atp3.org.