Anmol Mathur, a junior in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE), does much more than clean beakers as an undergraduate researcher in Assistant Professor Nian Liu’s Lab.
A 2018 winner of a President’s Undergraduate Research Award, Mathur is already co-author of a study on battery technology published in ACS Applied Energy Materials as well as a collaborator on a few more papers currently under review for publication.
He became interested in the Liu Lab during his Chemical Process Principles class as a sophomore when he heard Liu discuss his own research in the context of applying the coursework to the real world. A faculty member at ChBE since January 2017, Liu researches high-energy, low-cost, ultra-safe battery technologies.
Previous Research Background
Mathur was no stranger to research when he joined Liu’s group in January 2018. The son of a mechanical engineer, Mathur participated in studies to increase the efficiency of fertilizers during internships in both high school and college for NAQ Global in Brazil and Morocco.
Growing up in Jaipur India, where agriculture is a major industry, Mathur had developed an interest in fertilizer. Understanding what massive amounts of energy it requires to run fertilizer plants later drew him to Liu’s lab, with its focus on innovating battery technologies that could be scaled up to industrial uses.
“Without fertilizer, it’s impossible to feed the population,” Mathur says. “If you can supply clean energy to those plants, then it could make a big difference for the environment. While wind energy and solar energy are abundant, the problem is they are not continuous. To supply stable energy, you need storage.”
That’s a problem that potentially could be solved in part by the high-energy rechargeable aqueous batteries that Liu is researching.
Prior to joining the faculty of ChBE, Liu worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University, where he earned his PhD in 2014. Previously he’d been focused on lithium batteries, but realized that safety issues grew more serious as batteries of that type increased in size. He points to news reports of fires starting in electric cars and devices such as smart phones from lithium-ion battery incidents.
Liu found that zinc works better in conjunction with water electrolytes in batteries than lithium and is therefore safer. So he shifted his research focus to the nanoscale material design of zinc anodes for high-energy rechargeable aqueous batteries.
His research lab has published several studies related to this battery technology, including the paper that undergrad Mathur co-authored with his graduate student mentor, Yamin Zhang. This study, titled “A Lasagna-Inspired Nanoscale ZnO Anode Design for High-Energy Rechargeable Aqueous Batteries,” appeared in ACS Applied Energy Materials in fall 2018.
Mentorship in the Lab
As a 2018 Presidents Undergraduate Research Award (PURA) recipient, Mathur worked closely with Zhang, a third-year PhD student, on developing high-energy batteries with aqueous electrolytes. Zhang says she gives undergrads in the lab space to “solve problems themselves and develop their own creativity. Then they can come back to me for help.”
Liu says that Zhang does a great job mentoring. “She’s not just asking for help with simple tasks, but involving students in projects requiring deep thinking.”
Zhang is one of five grad students in the Liu Lab, along with two postdoctoral scholars, five visiting scholars, and eight undergraduates.
More than 60 percent of ChBE undergraduates participate in research before graduating. Liu says he takes particular note of students who express interest in applying for PURA. Undergrad researchers in his lab has won PURA in the past four consecutive semesters.
Mathur says he is considering graduate school after graduating in 2020, but he is also open to career opportunities in fertilizer production or energy storage. “I will go wherever I get a good opportunity,” he says.