ORNL Undergraduate Research Profile: Marko Ivancevic

Chemical engineering student Marko Ivancevic spent two summers researching methods to reduce the economic and environmental impact of desalinating water. He participated in the Community College Internship and Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship programs at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Even though the majority of the earth’s surface is covered with water, less than 1 percent is available and safe for human consumption. To balance increasing human needs with current supplies, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are studying methods to efficiently remove salt from water and improve its drinking quality.

In the summer of 2017, chemical engineering student Marko Ivancevic spent 10 weeks at the lab in the Community College Internship (CCI) program. In the summer of 2018, he returned to the project in the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) program. He is a student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, having transferred from the College of DuPage.

Alongside his ORNL mentor, Parans Paranthaman, Ph.D., he researched using recycled tire carbon as electrode material for capacitive deionization (CDI). CDI is a technology to desalinate water; it differs from many other desalination techniques because it has a low energy requirement. Tires are a common waste item and are recycled for other purposes. The carbon derived from tires has uses in batteries, supercapacitors and biofuel conversion. This research project utilized the carbon for producing drinkable water.

Previously, the project was in developmental stages, and the CCI program was Ivancevic’s first encounter with research. Upon returning to school, he presented the research at an undergraduate research symposium and was named a top presenter. Recently, the team focused on making the technology industry appropriate, submitting a paper for publication and pursuing patent protection. As a SULI intern, he felt better prepared to deal with unexpected results and obstacles after a year of additional coursework and research at UIUC.

“In research, you rarely see the result you want immediately,” Ivancevic said. “Dr. Paranthaman taught me that it is not about how many times you strike out, but how hard you’re willing to work for that home run.”

He praised Dr. Paranthaman’s approach to mentorship and independent research. “He is full of great ideas and wants his interns to be actively involved,” Ivancevic said.

After completing his bachelor’s degree, Ivancevic plans to pursue a doctoral degree and a career in academia and research. Perhaps he will return, once again, to the location that confirmed his passion for research.

“My biggest piece of advice is to ‘go for it.’ I hate to sound cliché, but you miss all of the shots you don’t take,” Ivancevic said. “I never expected that I would get the first internship at ORNL, much less be a returning student. The thing that has really captivated me about research is that it’s not always about how much you know or where you started. It’s about asking the right questions and wanting to be a part of something innovative.”

The CCI and SULI programs are sponsored by the Department of Energy Office of Science’s Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists (WDTS) and administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE).