As a child, Kia Jackson loved to take apart electronic gadgets — cellphones, flashlights, any object she could get her hands on — and inspect the batteries and circuits inside.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that Jackson, always intrigued by the mechanics of things around her, ultimately decided to pursue a career in engineering.
Over a recent summer, the Tuskegee University undergraduate found herself once again exploring the complexities of batteries, albeit on a much grander scale.
Jackson interned for 10 weeks at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) through the Higher Education Research Experiences (HERE) Program. Jackson was part of the Materials Chemistry Group in ORNL’s Chemical Sciences Division.
Under the mentorship of M. Parans Paranthaman, Ph.D., ORNL Corporate Fellow and group leader of Materials Chemistry, Jackson contributed to a research project that aims to find an environmentally sustainable anode material for use in sodium-ion batteries. The anode refers to the part of the battery where the electrical current is stored. ORNL researchers are testing different anode composites to determine what kind of materials will work best in sodium-ion batteries.
Lithium-ion batteries are the popular choice for energy storage in many electrical devices, Jackson noted, but the availability of lithium is limited compared with that of sodium, lithium’s fellow alkali metal. “The purpose of the project is to create an alternate battery that is more environmentally operative but just as or even more efficient than the lithium-ion battery for large-scale applications,” she said.
Additionally, the ORNL Materials Chemistry Group is looking to expand the use of tire-derived carbon for applications in batteries and fuel cells. “Tire waste is becoming a recognizable threat to our ecosystem,” Jackson said. “Finding innovative ways to recycle these tires could solve a future environmental headache.”
Aside from her research, Jackson’s favorite aspect of the HERE internship was the opportunity to attend professional development activities and seminars on topics such as volunteerism in science and laboratory safety.
Jackson continues to pursue a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at Tuskegee University, with a minor in materials science and engineering. She hopes to use her background in science to help achieve a more sustainable environment.
“I have gained so much valuable experience and confidence in myself as a scientist, an engineer and a global citizen,” she said of her time at ORNL. “I would highly recommend the HERE program to other students who are interested in pursuing their goals in research.”
The former HERE program was administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education for the U.S. Department of Energy.