Dr. Hui Wang Receives National Science Foundation CAREER Award
April 14, 2021
By Holly Hinson
Dr. Hui Wang, Assistant Professor, Mechanical Engineering, has been honored with the esteemed National Science Foundation (NSF) Career Award in recognition of her work on “Understanding Interfaces in Sulfide-based Solid-state Sodium Batteries” This award is about $520,000 over the next five years.
Wang has a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from Michigan Technological University, and a postdoc at Oak Ridge National Laboratory before she came to Speed School of Engineering and the Conn Center for Renewable Energy in August 2016. She has been an active member in American Chemistry Society and Materials Research Society, and a peer reviewer for several prestigious journals and books.
Wang said receiving the Career award is “very exciting. The grants are highly competitive, and it means this research is recognized by panel reviewers and is a very significant area,” she said. “Safer, higher energy-dense and affordable batteries are indispensable for wider applications of clean energy resources such as solar and wind.”
Wang’s research focus has been investigating sulfide-based solid-state Na battery that is a promising next-generation electrochemistry energy storage system. In comparison with Li-ion batteries, solid-state Na batteries offer the advantages of both cost benefits and high safety: using Na that is an abundantly available and affordable resource; and replacing liquid electrolyte by solid-state superionic conductors to enhance safety.
However, the state-of-the-art solid-state Na batteries show unsatisfied performance, and high interface resistance is one of the biggest challenges. This research aims to fundamentally understand the origins of interfacial resistance and engineer interface design to reduce the resistance in solid-state Na batteries, allowing the battery to work well at room temperature and achieve battery performance. The NSF Career Award will give Wang the resources of one to two PhD students to devote to the research.
The NSF Career Award considers the recipient’s potential for educational impact in the field as well as research, said Wang. The professor was involved in 2019 outreach programs for K-12 summer camps that give females more chance to be exposed to the research field, and plans to continue that outreach to empower women to pursue engineering.
Wang notes a similarity in her research and her educational approach with female high school students. “In my research, I am trying to design materials or interlayers to make the ion transport to reduce resistance,” she said. “It is the same with education. It’s about how to reduce that resistance barrier by making the students familiar with STEM and the expectation of these majors,” she said. “Those interactions will help create a program that encourages more students.”
Mechanical Engineering Department Chair Kevin Murphy said Wang’s Career Award is prestigious and relatively exceptional, one of only a handful given to Speed School professors in the past two decades. “Her innovative work in materials science and interfaces will impact energy storage, something important even today in the current infrastructure package President Biden is promoting,” he said. Murphy said Wang’s friendliness and youthful appearance can lull you into forgetting her tremendous intellect and expertise.
“Because she is as nice as the day is long, one can forget what a tenacious researcher she is,” said Murphy, “but her recent funding and publications certainly demonstrate that side of her.”
He said Wang has established an impressive, collaborative network of people from Speed, Oak Ridge and Conn Center. “At Oak Ridge, for example, their expertise and the multi-million dollar equipment we can’t afford – she and her students can leverage all of that to do better science,” he said. “This is a tough game, and we are incredibly proud of the work she’s doing. She has a tremendous future here at UofL,” said Murphy.
Wang wanted to sincerely thank many people that support her work from the ME Department, the Conn Center and Speed School. “Without them, there is no way for me to succeed,” she said.