Research

Research centers are transforming the Jacobs School

New centers encourage industry, faculty and students to collaborate and innovate to tackle tough problems for the public good.

The Jacobs School of Engineering has launched three new “agile” research centers so far in 2015. This adds up to a total of five new research centers launched at the Jacobs School in the last year and a half. Additional centers are on the way.

Each center builds on existing excellence at the Jacobs School and provides a platform for research collaborations between industry and multidisciplinary engineering teams at UC San Diego. Each center is built around a research vision that addresses big challenges facing society that no individual professor or lab could take on alone.

When faculty work together across disciplines and with industry partners, their students get opportunities to see challenges from multiple perspectives. This helps with their research and prepares them for the engineering work environment.

“A great engineering school is a relevant engineering school. Our faculty are working together like never before to address crucial issues that advance the public good and cannot be tackled by research labs working independently,” said Albert P. Pisano, Dean of the Jacobs School. Read about all the new centers here: bit.ly/jacobsresearch

PARTNER WITH US

  • Anne O’Donnell
  • Executive Director
  • Corporate Research
  • Partnerships
LNMO Spinel

4.06V

4.605V

5V

X-ray imaging reveals the movement of defects inside the LNMO spinel as the battery is charged to higher voltage.

X-ray vision looks inside batteries

New study reveals a secret to high-voltage batteries.

Batteries of the future will need to do more than charge faster, last longer and cost less — they will also need to work well at high voltages. This attribute is crucial for batteries used in high-power applications such as electric cars. However, most of today’s lithium-ion batteries do not operate above 4.2 Volts because their cathodes cannot survive higher voltage levels. So far, only one cathode material, called an LNMO spinel (a crystalline solid composed of lithium, nickel, manganese and oxygen atoms), is known to function at up to 4.9 Volts. But the reasons for its high-voltage performance have remained a mystery. A team of researchers led by nanoengineers and physicists at UC San Diego recently offered an answer to this question in the journal Science.

Using a combination of laser-like X-ray beams and novel phase retrieval computer algorithms, the team reconstructed high-resolution 3D images of the LNMO spinel — at the nanoscale level — and watched how the cathode material behaved while it was inside a charging battery. Analyses of the images revealed the movement of defects within the cathode material. The defects are irregularities in the material’s otherwise highly ordered atomic structure.

The team discovered that the defects are

stationary when the battery is at rest. But when the battery is charged to high voltage, the defects move around within the cathode material. According to the researchers, this is a significant finding because it shows that the LNMO spinel has a unique way of responding to the strain that is induced at high voltage.

“Materials typically respond to strain by cracking. Our experiments show that this material handles strain by moving the defects around while the battery is charging,” said nanoengineering professor Shirley Meng, who is also Director of the Sustainable Power and Energy Center (pg. 7). These findings could help battery developers design high-voltage cathodes for lithium-ion batteries.

“From the perspective of a battery materials researcher, this study also points to the exciting possibility of ‘defect engineering’ for battery materials. This would involve designing new battery materials that have specific ‘defects’ that improve performance,” said Meng.

“These new imaging methods that allow us to look inside the battery — while it is operating in real time — will be important not only for energy storage materials, but also for many other applications, novel materials and devices,” said physics professor Oleg Shpyrko.

Researchers

L-R: Andrej Singer (physics postdoctoral researcher), Andrew Ulvestad (physics Ph.D. graduate), NanoEngineering professor Shirley Meng, physics professor Oleg Shpyrko and Hyung-Man Cho (nanoengineering Ph.D student).

Table of Contents