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UTA engineer earns NSF CAREER grant to develop safer lithium ion batteries

March 02, 2016

A researcher at The University of Texas at Arlington is working to better understand thermal transport in lithium ion batteries so that they will be safer, more efficient and more reliable.

The National Science Foundation has awarded a five-year, $500,000 Faculty Early Career Development, or CAREER grant to Ankur Jain, an assistant professor in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, to develop a fundamental understanding of how heat flows in materials within a Li-ion battery so that those batteries can be used safely in more applications.

Jain has carried out significant research alone and in collaboration with others energy storage, and he hopes to improve the technology based on his own findings and others' contributions to the knowledge base.

"Li-ion batteries are used widely in electric vehicles, consumer electronics and other applications," Jain said. "The current performance of these batteries is limited by the fact that a battery tends to overheat when discharged. Improvement in heat removal from a battery will directly improve its performance, as well as its safety and reliability.

"The end goal is to develop a fundamental understanding of the nature of how heat flows in energy conversion devices such as Li-ion cells and what impedes the flow of heat in those devices."

Jain's CAREER Award showcases UTA's increasing commitment to research with potential results that can impact a broad range of theoretical and practical applications, said Anand Puppala, associate dean for research for the College of Engineering.

"Dr. Jain's CAREER Award is well-deserved, and exemplifies the quality of UTA's early-career faculty," Puppala said. "His research could have a broad impact on industries that rely on Li-ion batteries to power devices, with applications from military uses, to the cars we drive, to our personal computers. That type of innovative thinking is how UTA researchers are able to change the world for the better."

Jain's work is representative of how UTA is advancing research in the areas of sustainable urban communities and global environmental impact under the Strategic Plan 2020: Bold Solutions | Global Impact.

He is one of three UTA CAREER Award winners announced so far this year: Alice Sun, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, received a five-year, $500,000 award for a project titled, "Optofluidic Lasers at the Liquid/Liquid Interface: A Versatile Biosensing Platform." Yi Hong, an assistant professor of bioengineering, also received a five-year, $500,000 award for a project titled, "Dopant-Free Conductive Bioelastomer Development."

Five other UTA assistant professors have been awarded NSF CAREER Award grants recently:
  • Majie Fan of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department received $485,627 in 2015 to enhance understanding of how the Rocky Mountains and how their modern, elevated landscape came to be.
  • W. Ashley Griffith, also of Earth and Environmental Sciences, received $400,000 in 2014 to study rock structures' reaction to earthquakes, meteor impacts and explosions.
  • Hyejin Moon of the Mechanical and Aerospace Department received $400,000 in 2013 to support her work with microfluidic devices, which promise to improve 3D tissue and cell sample analyses.
  • Baohong Yuan in the Bioengineering Department received $407,163 in 2013 to more accurately create images for deep tissue, which could lead to earlier cancer detection.
  • Fuqiang Liu in the Materials Science and Engineering Department received $400,000 in 2013 to improve methods for capturing, storing and transmitting solar energy.
The College of Engineering has offered support for the last year in a push to increase the success of early-career faculty. Several of those assistant professors visited with program directors in Washington, D.C. to discuss how to successfully get their research funded.

In addition, the College hosted a workshop where young faculty reviewed successful CAREER proposals and worked with NSF program directors to write proposals in such a way that they'd have a good chance of success. Each of the CAREER winners this year took advantage of this program.

Including his CAREER Award, Jain has been the primary investigator or co-PI on research grants totaling more than $2.2 million since beginning his UTA career in 2011, including a share of a $225,000 NSF EAGER grant in 2015 as a primary investigator to find ways to harness heat energy lost from automobiles, buildings and other devices.

Jain directs UTA's Microscale Thermophysics Laboratory, where he and his students conduct research on microscale thermal transport, energy conversion systems, semiconductor thermal management, bioheat transfer and related topics. Jain's research and education activities have been supported by grants from National Science Foundation, Office of Naval Research, Department of Energy, Indo-U.S. Science & Technology Forum and the UTA Research Enhancement Grant.

Jain earned his Ph.D. and master's of science degrees from Stanford University. He has authored or co-authored 33 journal articles and is a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Jain's research adds to UTA's work with heat transfer, energy efficiency and developing batteries that are highly powerful and can store large amounts of energy.

In addition to Jain, Dereje Agonafer, a professor of mechanical engineering and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Society of Mechanical Engineering, is inventor of eight U.S. patents and one pending U.S. patent application. He also is one of the world's leading authorities on energy efficiency through cooling of computer servers.

David Wetz, an associate professor of electrical engineering, leads UTA's Pulsed Power and Energy Lab and has worked extensively with the Office of Naval Research, Argonne National Labs and other government and private interests to create batteries that operate safely, store greater amounts of energy and operate at very high power rates. The Faculty Early Career Development Program is the NSF's most prestigious award for junior faculty. Winners are outstanding researchers, but also are expected to be outstanding teachers through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research at their home institutions. The goal of the program is to identify faculty who have potential to become leaders in their fields and give them a significant grant to begin to realize that potential.
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About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of more than 51,000 students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second-largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UTA as one of the 20 fastest-growing public research universities in the nation in 2014. U.S. News & World Report ranks UTA fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as the top four-year college in Texas for veterans on Military Times' 2016 Best for Vets list. Visit http://www.uta.edu to learn more, and find UTA rankings and recognition at http://www.uta.edu/uta/about/rankings.php.

University of Texas at Arlington

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