Stanford welcomes inaugural cohort of the Stanford Energy Postdoctoral Fellowship
A new Precourt Institute postdoc program has begun developing a global community of future leaders to realize the vision of sustainable, affordable, secure energy for all.
A new postdoctoral program at Stanford University has accepted its first cohort, the beginning of a community of interdisciplinary scholars in sustainable energy from around the world.
The recent PhD graduates come from three universities abroad and four U.S. universities. They are citizens of six different countries. Each of the Stanford Energy Postdoctoral Fellowship's first eight fellows are co-mentored by two Stanford researchers from different disciplines. Staff scientists at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and at Carnegie Institution for Science's two departments at Stanford can also mentor, as two are now doing, though each fellow must have at least one Stanford faculty member as a mentor.
“We’re bringing together some of the brightest minds in sustainable energy,” said Yi Cui, founding director of the fellowship, as well as director of the Precourt Institute for Energy and the Sustainability Accelerator, both within the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.
“The fellows will benefit by working with mentors who come at problems from different angles and from interacting with other fellows working on different aspects of the energy transition,” Cui said. “Stanford will benefit by our bringing new talent to campus, a cross-pollination with ideas from other universities.”
The fellows’ research projects aim to advance biofuels, sustainable steelmaking, sustainable fertilizer production, carbon dioxide utilization, models for answering economic and policy questions, and aspects of energy conversion and storage, including large-scale storage and hydrogen production. The program will support fellows for up to three years, instead of the more common two years, so fellows will have the opportunity to pursue new avenues of discovery while at Stanford.
“They will emerge from the program with an expanded scope of knowledge and a bigger toolbox,” sad Cui.
The program’s faculty advisors selected the fellows. The advisors for the first cohort were: Steven Chu (chair) in Physics and Physiology; Inês Azevedo in Energy Science & Engineering; Mark Duggan in Economics; Matthew Kanan in Chemistry; Franklin M. (Lynn) Orr in Energy Science & Engineering; Deborah Sivas at Stanford Law School; and Cui in Materials Science & Engineering, Energy Science & Engineering, and Photon Science at SLAC.
“Many great candidates applied,” said Audrey Yau, director of energy fellowships at the Precourt Institute. “This created a tough job for our advisors. Still, they’re confident that they picked the best candidates based on previous work, proposed postdoctoral research and an understanding of how their research fits into the broader energy challenge.”
Yau has created a program that includes monthly “lab crawls” for fellows to visit each other’s research spaces, monthly socials for all fellows and their mentors, and a professional development program. Fellows will also share their research progress at an annual showcase and learn how their research results can be scaled to achieve real impact. Fellows, Yau said, will be a vital part of the community at the Precourt Institute and at the program’s other sponsors: the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy, the Bits & Watts Initiative, and the StorageX Initiative.
Meet the fellows
As an undergraduate at Trinity College, Dublin, Kyle Frohna worked on solar cells with professors at Stanford and CalTech. Frohna then earned his PhD at the University of Cambridge also working on solar cells. There, he was awarded a doctoral prize fellowship by the U.K.’s Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council, among other honors. As a Stanford postdoc, Frohna will shift his research to grid-scale energy storage devices and hydrogen production. His mentors are William Chueh in Materials Science & Engineering and in Energy Science & Engineering, and Dan Congreve in Electrical Engineering.
At UC San Diego, John “Jack” Holoubek's PhD work focused on the liquid electrolyte/electrode interphase for new battery designs. Holoubek won a NASA fellowship and a 2022 Student Research Award from the Electrochemical Society. At Stanford, Holoubek will design electrolytes for electrocatalytic processes for energy storage and conversion, like producing ammonia, or converting CO2 into carbon-neutral fuels or useful chemicals. Past attempts to improve this class of processes have focused on the electrode rather than the electrolyte. Holoubek will work with Yi Cui, as well as Zhenan Bao and Jian Qin in Chemical Engineering.
Sang Cheol Kim helped design a new generation of batteries for hybrid electric vehicles adopted by five EV manufacturers while working at LG Chem in South Korea. There, Kim won the Top Performer of the Year in 2015, among other honors. He then earned a PhD degree in materials science and engineering at Stanford working on battery electrolytes. As a postdoc, Kim aims to design long-cycling and high-energy lithium metal batteries, and to help find out why depositing ion-irradiated hexagonal boron nitrides on the lithium metal anode suppresses dendrites. His mentors are Steven Chu and Yan-Kai Tzeng at SLAC.
Elias “Eli” Lazarus is an ecological economist focused on measuring, accounting for, and mitigating economic externalities. He is wrapping up his doctoral work at UC Berkeley, where he was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Lazarus’ work at Stanford will use computable general equilibrium models to answer major policy and economic questions about energy production and use, climate change, and the interactions between them. His advisors will be Lawrence Goulder in Economics and Ines Azevedo in Energy Science & Engineering.
As an undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh, Paulina Majchrzak won the Chemical Physics Prize for outstanding achievement in her senior year. Majchrzak is finishing her doctorate in solid state physics at Aarhus University, Denmark, where she contributed to the construction of a photoemission spectroscopy experimental station. At Stanford, Majchrzak will develop a spectroscopic toolbox to uncover the mechanism governing the electrochemical activity in rechargeable battery cathodes. She will work with Zhi-Xun Shen in Physics and Applied Physics, and Harold Hwang in Photon Science and Applied Physics.
Lev Tsypin earned his PhD at Caltech, where he was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow. Tsypin domesticates new microorganisms and develops tools for genetically engineering them. He will work with Botryococcus braunii, a species of freshwater algae that secretes petroleum-like oil. This organism may lead to a cheap and sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. Tsypin aims to engineer B. braunii for optimized biofuel production while working with the School of Medicine’s Ellen Yeh in Pathology and in Microbiology & Immunology, and Arthur Grossman at the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Plant Biology.
Luca Vialetto earned his PhD at the Dutch Institute for Fundamental Energy Research. Vialetto’s doctoral work focused on computational modeling of plasmas – ionized gases – for conversion of CO2 into chemicals. He won the 2021 Student Award for Excellence at the Gaseous Electronics Conference. Vialetto’s postdoctoral project at Stanford will use plasmas, which can be generated with renewable electricity, for local, carbon-neutral production of fertilizer. Vialetto’s mentors are Kentaro Hara in Aeronautics & Astronautics and Mark Cappelli in Mechanical Engineering.
Yifan Wang, ’22, earned a PhD in mechanical engineering at Stanford, after undergraduate work at Tsinghua University. Wang developed a stress-driven kinetics model of defect processes in metals and alloys, which won the Juan C. Simo Thesis Award at Stanford in 2022. As a postdoc, Wang is taking on sustainably manufacturing steel – now responsible for 10 percent of global CO2 emissions. Wang seeks to replace coal with green hydrogen for removing oxygen from the iron ore, a promising path to decarbonized steel. Leora Dresselhaus-Marais in Materials Science & Engineering and in Photon Science, and Xiaolin Zheng in Mechanical Engineering and Energy Science & Engineering advise Wang.
Kim, Tsypin and Wang have started their postdoctoral work. The other fellows will arrive on campus by the end of 2023.
The Stanford Energy Postdoctoral Fellowship will accept up to 10 fellows each year. Applications for the second cohort open July 1. The deadline for completing the application is Oct. 1. Final decisions will be made by Jan. 31, 2024. The second cohort will arrive on campus during summer 2024.
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