JUAMI One Year Later: An Update from Ben

Dear JUAMI Friends,

Hello! I can't believe it's been nearly a year since we all met in Addis Ababa. I'm so glad for all the memories I made with each of you! Here's a quick update from me:

I am still at Columbia University in New York working toward my PhD with Simon Billinge. I have been doing x-ray and neutron scattering experiments on superconductors and magnetic semiconductors, using the pair distribution function technique to study local structure in these materials. I also have been learning muon spin relaxation techniques to study the magnetic properties of these materials. It has been a lot of fun! I have also enjoyed keeping in touch via email with several of my JUAMI friends, and we in the Billinge research group have been lucky to have started new research collaborations with Professor Yury Gogotsi and Professor Adrian Hightower, who both presented at JUAMI last year. I am also helping BG, Matt, Georgies, and Jojo create a new website to help all of us in JUAMI to stay connected and continue to collaborate with each other--you'll be hearing more about it soon!

Here's one of my favorite pictures from last year, which I am posting just for old times' sake. What a great soccer match it was!

I hope to hear from more of you soon!

Your friend,

Chemistry @ AAU

On December 10th we visited Addis Ababa University, specifically the Chemistry Department.

For many of us, this was our first chance to see the laboratory facilites and instrument resources available to our fellow East African researchers.

Welcome sign, in English and Amharic

Impressive gate (we don't have this at Rutgers)

View of exterior

View from inside (amazing foliage!)

List of Faculty Members

Researchers at work (I wish we had these sunny windows in NJ)

Close up with an HPLC instrument

Bek shows us a glove box

Inside one of the analytical labs

John F. Kennedy Memorial Library

High power! Fast charge! Fast discharge!

At the end of the first week, we had the official JUAMI international football match, complete with jerseys, a referee, and prizes!! We left Panorama hotel as a group, taking a bus over to Addis Ababa University together. I heard a lot of trash talk on the bus, including threats of breaking opposing team members' legs ;)

View from the stands

 Jane, Alex, Shayla, and I found a shady spot in the stands to camp out. It was so fun to watch! After a week in Ethiopia spending time non-stop with the group, we could figure out who everyone was even from a distance. In the first half of the game, we cheered for everyone who had the ball. Then it became more clear that the yellow team overall was more used to Addis Ababa's altitude of 8000 ft ;) In the second half, we switched over to rooting for the underdogs, the green team. All the professors on the green team, we really admire you! Professor Peter Green and Professor Simon Bilinge both scored spectacular goals. Ben and Mesfin also scored goals. I forget who scored the 5th goal. If we analyze the data set (4 out of 5 data points known), maybe the last goal was also scored by a JUAMI organizer?

Here are some pictures:

John Baira trying to score a goal on Wolfgang
Wolf, we don't know what you were yelling across the field in German but we're sure it wasn't too polite ;)

John Baira then shooting a penalty kick on Kevin

Nathan, you're such a trooper for playing the whole game barefoot!

Everybody after the game

Professor Teketel preparing to award the cup

Nathan accepting the medal for the green team!

And here is the yellow team!

All future JUAMIs should have a football match. 

Dinner at a Happy Restaurant!

This is from one of the early group dinners to "Happy" restaurant. Remember when we decided to take a picture of Francis holding ALL the food, and he was worried what everyone back home would think? 

Thank you Mesfin for leading our dinner group of 10+ people to the restaurant and helping everyone order!

Sometime in the middle of dinner, I remember doing a demonstration on how to eat with chopsticks using two straws. 

We ended dinner watching the Ethiopian version of "America's funniest home videos" on a TV in the restaurant. I wish I had a picture to post of everyone's faces as they watched. 

Collaborative learning

From left: Chalachew, Nancy, Hulu, and Gertrude

This picture captures one of my favorite memories. Yes, we are doing work. This is Day 3 of JUAMI, with Professor Yury Gogotsi giving the supercapacitor tutorial in the morning and Kelsey Hatzell leading the afternoon learning activities.

Every afternoon, following a top-notch tutorial on the topic of the day (all of them were exceptional! thank you professors!), Ben would run his random group generator program to break us into groups of 4-6 students. In this picture, we are solving problems related to supercapacitors, similar to what a graduate student in the field would do regularly for data analysis in his/her research. What is memorable about these two hours to me is that everyone in my group really wanted everyone to be on the same page in understanding the problems and doing them correctly. And even after the allocated time for group learning was over and coffee hour had begun, we wanted to finish the problems!

JUAMI provided a very unique experience in truly cross-cultural collaborative learning. We all come from different research backgrounds, speak different languages, but share a common interest in materials for sustainable energy. In graduate school in the US, meeting people from many different countries is common, but working in these small groups was still very special for me. I was really amazed by the level of motivation and mutual respect among our entire JUAMI group. Later on, I found out that we also have a lot of creativity (e.g. the nano-windmills and moon expeditions proposed on Day 10)

The supercapacitor day was also the day I learned to say "thank you" in Amharic. Hulu kindly wrote it out for me and repeated it for me about 20 times so that I could learn how to pronounce it properly. Ameseginalehu!

Life Lessons from a Solar Cell

Whoa, Nella! 

That was a fantastic activity we had on dye sensitized solar cells at the end of the first week. Who would have guessed that we would be able to make a functioning solar cell in just one hour? Well, if you guessed that about our group, you would actually be completely wrong. Pretty much everything that we touched ended up not working. First of all, Bek deserted us from the very beginning—sad :(. Next, we pressed the paraffin film way too hard onto the photoactive area and left it in the sun, which meant that it melted onto the dye and became impossible to remove. After mutilating about half the photoactive area, we just gave up and left the paraffin covering the dye. At least some sunlight would still be able to penetrate. After that, we poured the electrolyte on the slide and then somehow managed to put the counter electrode on the wrong way. A solar cell doesn’t do much good when all the sunlight is reflected. Luckily, we were able to fix that without too much difficulty, but then we were faced with the nearly impossible task of wiring up a simple series circuit. That blasted potentiometer had three different leads, there were two multimeters that we were somehow supposed to use, and enough wire for the whole city of Addis Ababa, and we had to figure out how to get everything connected. Eventually, we succeeded. We were very proud of ourselves. 

But this isn’t the end of the story. By now, we were the last group still working on this—everyone else had finished long ago. We quickly took about 10 data points and felt like we finally had everything we needed to complete the project, until we realized that the multimeter had been broken all along. The second digit could be interpreted as either 0, 7, 8, or 9—and we only considered zero until the very end. Whoops. But the next groups were already lined up to start working on their solar cells, so we had no choice but to leave. Ben decided to leave altogether—he disappeared and didn’t come back until later that night. So Bek deserted us from the beginning, but Ben deserted us at the end, after contributing to this epic failure. Luckily, we had Celline, Nancy, and Dereje to save the day. They realized that our data was mostly useless, so we sneakily borrowed some beautiful data taken by another group, plotted a flawless I-V curve, and earned high praise from Professor Tom Mallouk. Hurray us!

Moral of the story: Even when everything is going wrong, you can still have fun and learn a lot by collaborating with your fellow scientists. Life lesson learned!

Celline, Bek, Nancy, Ben, Dereje

Nano and energy

One nice aspect about JUAMI has been the opportunity to make connections between different energy technologies and the materials upon which they rely. As an example, a common thread is the crucial role of nanoscale features in top-performing materials for nearly all the different technologies covered at the school.
  • In supercapacitors, nanoscale carbon-based materials improve energy density by increasing the surface area for electrostatic energy storage.
  • In dye-sensitized solar cells, nanoporous TiO2 is crucial to maximize surface area for dye molecules to transfer their photoexcited electrons.
  • For bulk heterojunction organic photovoltaics, the nanoscale phase separation of donor and acceptor components maximizes the interfacial area needed to split photogenerated excitons.
  • Nanoscale morphology can also increase thermoelectric (heat-to-electric) figure-of-merit via reduction of lattice thermal conductivity.
These are just a few examples – the list goes on and on!