Sean Najmi

Chemical Engineering
“Synthesis and Characterization of Palladium Nanoparticle Doped 3D Graphene Nanosheets for use as Electrocatalyst Supports in Fuel Cells”

Sean Najmi

The depletion of fossil fuels along with the increasing demand for energy has given rise to the development of sustainable energy technologies. Fuel cells are one of the more popular options for sustainable energy due to its high efficiency, zero emission and low temperature needed for operation. Fuel cells require catalysts in order to have the reaction move forward and catalysts require supports at both the cathode and anode of the fuel cell. Due to its high stability, surface area, and electrical conductivity we will look at using 3D graphene nanosheets (GNS) as a support for our catalysts. Using the Sacrificial Support Method (SSM) we are able to control the morphology of the nanosheets such as: the pore size distribution, pores modality and surface area. This was done by altering three factors: the ratio of silica to GNS, the silica compound used, and the reduction method for turning graphene oxide into GNS. After looking at the Brunauer-Emmett-Teller (BET) analysis of each sample it was shown that the chemical reduction method with the SiO2 sacrificial support yielded the highest surface area. Altering the ratio of silica to GNS was shown to have little effect. Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) images show multiple anchoring sites for the catalysts on the surface of chemically reduced SiO2 samples. Cyclic Voltammetry (CV), Raman Spectroscopy and Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy (EDS) were also used to help characterize the samples. The thermally reduced sample with SiO2 support was shown to be the best support.

What research have you been doing this summer?
I have been working on the synthesis and characterization of 3D graphene nanosheets to be used as a support for electrocatalysts in a fuel cell. This project falls under many different research fields such as nanoscience and renewable energy.

How did you find out about this opportunity?
I applied to this internship for last summer but was not accepted. At the time I used Google to search for “chemical engineering REU renewable energy.” I then found the University of New Mexico (UNM) Nanoscience and Microsystems Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program.

What was the application process? Was it difficult?
The application was online and required an official transcript as well as one letter of recommendation. The application was not too difficult. I was asked to submit answers to questions about what I want to do in the future and why I want to do research. I was already applying to around a dozen other programs so I was familiar with types of questions that were going to be asked of me.

Who is your mentor for your research? How did you arrange to work with this specific lab?
My PI for this summer is Dr. Plamen Atanassov who is a distinguished professor in the department of Chemical and Nuclear Engineering at UNM. He is also the director of the Center for Micro Engineered Materials (CMEM) which sponsors the REU program. My mentor, Dr. Alexey Serov, is a research assistant professor in the same department. I also received mentoring from Ms. Sadia Kabir and Mr. Mike Workman who are graduate students in the lab. Because I chose what project I would like to do, I was assigned to the lab that conducts that specific research.

Do you get course credit for this work or get paid?
I receive a stipend and am enrolled in PRAC 98C.

How much time do you put in each week?
Between 40 and 45 hours.

What classes helped prepare you for this internship?
Although a lot of what I used was new to me, numerous concepts from General Chemistry, Introductory Physics, and Chemical Engineering Analysis (ENCH 215) helped me understand the underlying concepts of my project.

How did you learn what you needed to know to be successful in this summer project?
I used a lot of instruments that I had never heard of (Scanning Electron Microscope, BET analyzer etc.) Because of this I had to read a lot of papers and watch many tutorial videos on how the instruments worked and the basic theory behind them. This allowed me to have a much better understanding of why I used the machines and gave me more confidence when I explained my results during presentations.

What has been the hardest part about your work this summer?
The work I am doing is very unfamiliar to me so just reading up and trying to remember all this fresh information is definitely a huge challenge.

What was the most unexpected thing?
I did not know that I would be interacting with so many different people when it came to the characterization portion of my project. Each time I was introduced to a new instrument, I would also meet a new professor or graduate student who would show me how it works.

How does this research experience relate to your future course work?
I have learned a lot about physical chemistry and transport phenomena. These are two important classes that I will be taking during both semesters of my junior year.

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?
There are so many people out there doing so many incredible things! If you cannot find something that interests you, but still want to do research, keep looking. There are so many different fields of research and they are all different from each other in some way.

What are your career goals?
I want to attain a Ph.D. in chemical engineering after I earn my bachelor’s degree. I want to become a professor at a research university so I that I can be a part of two things I believe are essential to the growth of humanity: research and education.

What else are you involved in on campus?
I do research under Dr. Leah Tolosa at the Center for Advanced Sensor Technology (CAST) in the Department of Chemical, Biochemical, and Environmental Engineering during the school year. I am also the corresponding secretary for Tau Beta Pi (TBP), the Engineering Honor Society.


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