Jue Liu Q&A: Building Energy-Dense Rechargeable Batteries
STONY BROOK, NY -- Jue Liu received his PhD in Chemistry in December 2015. He is now a postdoctoral researcher in the Chemical and Engineering Materials Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. His dissertation work focuses on exploring novel cathode/solid state electrolyte materials for rechargeable Li/Na-ion batteries, with specific attention paid to understand the relationship of structure/battery functionality.
How did you first come to study chemistry? And how did you settle on energy storage specifically?
I became interested in chemistry when I was in high school. At that time, I was so amazed by the flame test, which is used to detect the presence of certain elements – primarily metal ions – based on each element’s characteristic emission spectrum. For example, copper gives a green-colored flame.
Later on, I became more and more interested in understanding the crystal structure of different solids and eventually decided to join a solid state research group when I was a sophomore. It was with this group that I started my seven years of research on rechargeable Li-ion batteries.
What excites you about your work?
It’s really all about discovering new compounds and understanding their beautiful crystal structures. It was fascinating to realize that atoms actually do recognize their neighbors!
What have you found surprising?
It was fascinating to realize that atoms actually do recognize their neighbors!
The boundary between chemistry and physics.
Your research has implications for technologies that rely on rechargeable batteries, such as electric vehicles and grid-scale energy storage. Can you explain, for a general audience, what those implications are?
Rechargeable Li-ion batteries have been widely used to power electric vehicles, such as the Tesla Model S. However, the relative lower energy density – the amount of energy stored in specific weight or volume – of Li-ion batteries related to gasoline hinders the massive production of electric vehicles. Therefore, our research focuses on how we might further boost the energy density of rechargeable batteries by replacing the traditional oxide cathodes with novel oxynitrides cathodes.
How did you settle on Stony Brook for your doctoral research?
I became interested in solid state inorganic chemistry when I was an undergrad and was eager to continue my research in this field after graduation. Stony Brook University was at the top of my list because there are so many great inorganic research groups here, and we also have strong connections to Brookhaven National Lab.
How did your program help equip you for success?
I feel so lucky to have two great mentors during the last five years. They provided me the opportunity to work in two different areas. The research freedom in the Chemistry Department is also highly appreciated.
What opportunities (both inside and outside your department) did you find most valuable?
The opportunities to use National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) at Brookhaven National Lab and Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) at Oak Ridge National Lab were most valuable. I was exposed to a wide range of areas by attending user meetings and workshops held at these national labs.
What advice would you offer students interested in pursuing graduate work in chemistry?
Don’t confine yourself to a small area. It is really valuable to communicate with researchers and scientists from different fields.