Building a Better Lithium Ion Battery

March 12, 2018

Smart phoneThe next improvement to lithium ion batteries—like the ones that power our smartphones—may be in part to Bryce Scurr’s '18 research contributions.

Scurr spent a summer completing a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), in which he aided a nano-technology project at a private laboratory in New Mexico. The REU focused on breaking up nano-alumina and forming it into sheets that are a ten-billionth of a meter thin. The sheets can then be layered with other materials to form a substance similar to a snail shell, which while brittle, can absorb a lot of tension and not break.

“I came in and shot off a bunch of different ways of going about seeing if it would work,” Scurr said. “And eventually it would probably be used in something like lithium ion batteries.”

The absorbing REU trained him in radiological tools, taught him a lot about organic and inorganic chemistry, exposed him to new research experiences, and immersed him in more than two dozen research papers that he could pull from and apply to the project. He also benefitted from the expertise of his fellow students in the lab, from peers to graduate and post-doctoral students, and learned other valuable soft skills, including the differences in delivering a presentation to a technically minded audience versus a general one.

He entered the REU with skills gained at Whittier, as well. In physics professor Serkan Zorba's experimental physics class, he practiced working with peers in a focused, hands-on experimental environment. Scurr was also mentored in programming by Professor of Physics Glenn Piner.

"Lectures are important, too, because I had to actively listen to my mentor at my REU, but applying what I just heard was made easier by practicing that skill with my professors and peers at Whittier College," Scurr said.

The 10 weeks he spent in New Mexico also helped land him another REU, this time focused on a civil engineering project in New York. There, he’ll use data models to better understand how cross-pollutants enter urban water ways when it rains.

Like other students in the 3-2 Engineering Program before him, Scurr plans to transfer to the University of Southern California, taking the broad intellectual training he’s received at Whittier and focusing on more technical training to complete his undergraduate engineering education. Beyond that, he is considering earning a master’s degree in civil engineering.