Lithium research earns first place prize
MU chemical engineering graduate student Misty Sinclair received first place for her presentation at the Central States Microscopy & Microanalysis Society (CSMMS) spring meeting.
“My research was geared toward characterization of lithium-intercalated graphite,” Sinclair said. “We looked at the diffraction patterns of our samples and characterized the crystalline structure.”
Intercalation is the introduction of a single or groups of molecules between other molecules. In graphite intercalation, elements or molecules are inserted between the graphite layers. With lithium-intercalated graphite, the reaction between elements can produces an increase in electrical conductivity, which is the process key to the power behind lithium-ion batteries.
In Sinclair’s research, irradiating the lithium that has been intercalated into highly oriented pyrolytic graphite (HOPG) can form tritium, creating a longer life power source. But in order for a better understanding of how lithium intercalates with the HOPG, Sinclair made samples by submerging HOPG into molten lithium and reviewed them using X-Ray diffraction (XRD), scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM).
“When you’re going to irradiate a sample, you want to know exactly what’s going on before you irradiate it,” Sinclair said.
Sinclair compared scans of untouched HOPG to her samples, finding differing patterns in the graphite structures. Diffraction images suggested differing stacking sequences between the specimens. She also concluded that evidence of the characteristics of lithium-loaded HOPG’s could be observed visually without testing. She presented this research on a poster and as a student speaker at the March meeting. The first place prize included an iPad mini.
Sinclair, who earned her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from MU in 2011, heard about the competition through CSMMS President Tommi White, an assistant research professor in biochemistry and associate director at the MU Electron Microscopy Core Facility. She currently conducts graduate research under faculty mentor Patrick Pinhero, a professor in the Chemical Engineering Department. She will graduate in May and has secured a job with Trinity Consultants in Burlington, Iowa.
CSMMS formed in the 1960s as a subgroup of the Microscopy Society of America. In the 1990s, it merged with the Missouri Illinois and Kansas Microbeam Analysis Society to form one group to serve those states with a central organization that promotes microscopy and microanalysis research.