Battery Chats: Pooja Vadhva
A convo with solid-state researcher and champion taekwondo athlete + some fun battery tidbits
We’re intercalating a convo with Pooja Vadhva, a PhD battery researcher at University College London and double national British champion and international medalist in taekwondo, along with other fun tidbits. For inquiries, reach out!
Pooja Vadhva is currently a PhD student at the University College London researching solid electrolytes to enable high energy-density lithium metal batteries. Her work focuses on fabricating thin-film solid electrolytes, cell testing and failure characterization using X-ray methods such as X-ray computed tomography. Prior to her PhD, she interned at Jaguar Land Rover, modelling cell cycling as well as SKUTE, designing battery packs for petrol to electric scooter conversions in Bali. Her interests lie in industry developments within the electric vehicle battery sector, helping to advance battery technology from laboratory stages into commercialization.
She also just published an awesome review on EIS for all-solid-state batteries: check it out!
Tell us the Pooja Vadhva origin story. How did you become interested in science and engineering, and more specifically in the field of batteries?
I am a PhD student at University College London researching solid electrolytes to enable high energy-density lithium metal batteries. My background is a Master’s in Physics at University of Manchester, where Brian Cox famously lectured us. During this time I became fascinated with quantum mechanics and in particular quantum dots which can double the efficiency of present-day solar cells. When discussing my solar cell technology with energy experts at a London Hackathon, I realised the problem relied not just on the solar cell efficiency but when the sun was not shining. A solution for this - energy storage or lithium ion batteries caught my attention. I have always been interested in cars and Formula E, and realising through lithium ion batteries I could work in the automotive sector, storage, consumer electronics and even aerospace sectors excited me greatly.
You’ve worked at a lot of interesting companies. What was most interesting and what was your biggest takeaway in each of these roles?
My time at JLR was extremely insightful as I caught a glimpse into the electric automotive world; the integration of cells into modules and then into packs which would be responsible for controlling the acceleration and performance of the car was amazing. The rigorous testing, experimental and modelling analysis that was done astounded me and I became fascinated with it.
My time working for SKUTE was enlightening albeit in a different way, I realised the difference in a developing country the need to electrify was mainly due to the hazardous air pollution levels. The heat and humid conditions in Bali was a huge challenge for the battery pack design in an electric scooter which had to be cost comparable to a petrol scooter, very unlike the luxurious price tag of the electric Jaguar I-PACE.
The contrast between the two opened my eyes as batteries being a global solution, whether for wealthy developed countries reducing their carbon emissions or in developing Asian countries where air pollution and grid blackouts are a constant nuisance.
What are you working on now, and what’s next for you?
I am currently working on developing scalable thin film solid electrolytes to protect a lithium metal anode to enable higher energy density batteries. Protecting the lithium anode in this way prevents dendrite formation at high current densities, meaning that fast charging (<10 minutes) for electric vehicles would be achievable. I am also building a model for these solid state batteries in order to predict the cell cycling behaviour important for battery management systems (BMS) in EVs or energy storage applications.
You also have an achieved career in taekwondo too! Tell us more about taekwondo, and what else do you do in your free time to “recharge your batteries”?
I have thoroughly enjoyed training in Taekwondo, competing for Great Britain and travelling across the globe for World University Games in Taipei and winning multiple International medals, Double British Champion all whilst completing my Master’s in Physics. I still train and I love sparring (fighting) which does help my de-stress from my PhD! My coach Paul Green, has been instrumental in always getting the best out of me and even today I can hear his voice telling me to put my 100% in every work that I do.
I’ve always found a hobby outside of work helps me to focus my mind and refresh my ideas. In addition to taekwondo, I am an avid reader and always trying to be sustainable to help tackle climate change. This year, I ran 2 km a day in our cold UK weather, to raise awareness for climate change. I am also a foodie and love cooking Indian food as well as hanging out with friends (when COVID allows).
If our readers are interested in reaching out to you for advice or to learn more, how best should they reach you?
🔋 Fun things around the internet
Battery research bingo
Have you seen the popular xkcd comic on types of scientific papers? We took a stab at a battery themed one… see if any papers sound familiar!
Made of what???
Researchers have published on some very interesting batteries. You know about Earth Wind & Fire, get ready for Protein Wood & Concrete
Protein: a metal-free battery made from amino acids has been engineered with 37.8 mAh/g of capacity while cycling at 2V!
Wood: Nano-cellulose SEIs can protect lithium metal electrodes?
Concrete: these concrete “structural” batteries could come to a building near you.
Did you catch Elon’s SNL appearance? Alex Grant did and put out a bunch of reaction memes related to critical minerals, or as he puts it: “fancy salts”.
📚 On our reading/listening list
Batteries Are Complicated. A shiny new battery blog, brought to you by Voltaiq.
Clean Energy Wire. Clean batteries key hurdle in carmakers' race to go green.
What happens to dead batteries? Ian Morse on recycling for ScienceMag
🌞 As always, thanks for reading!
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About the writers: Andrew is a PhD researcher at the University of Oxford (@ndrewwang). Nicholas is a business manager at UCL Business and Venture Fellow with Berkeley SkyDeck (@nicholasyiu). Ethan is a battery scientist who’s set to join the Jeff Dahn Research Group this September (@ethandalter).