Chemistry bonds “quirky” researchers in hard-working Surendranath lab

whenever Sneaky the Lizard got their PhD in biochemistry from MIT, a keen team of researchers in lab of Yogesh “Yogi” Surendranath was there to commemorate. Although Sneaky is really a imaginary, photoshopped character, he’s a significant part regarding the lab tradition, along with his “graduation” ended up being similar to a family milestone.

“Sneaky the Lizard graduated in 2018, despite never showing up to work,” states Surendranath, the Paul M. Cook profession developing connect Professor of Chemistry, while proudly showing-off a lab image with Sneaky up-front and center. “My team is really strange, but I love all of them a great deal.”

The Surendranath lab is a tight-knit group that enjoys some interior jokes — about mangoes and coconuts, and imaginary lizards. However it’s additionally about groundbreaking work with electrochemistry that’s setting up brand new paths to a low-carbon future.

Those that work with the lab state the 2 are related.

“At the end of the afternoon, we focus on truly, very hard dilemmas, as well as in purchase to focus because environment and stay sane, you will need a culture that’s supporting and causes it to be fun and interesting and interesting,” states Surendranath, just who come early july got a Presidential Early job Award for researchers and designers, the greatest honor the U.S. government offers to outstanding experts and designers starting independent careers.

“We’re one neighborhood wherever our company is, and we also all take pleasure in solving these problems at the electrochemical interfaces,” claims postdoc Marcel Schreier. “This allows us to be described as a small bit forward often. We ask more questions and attempt and attempt and try to respond to all of them.”

All the work in the Surendranath laboratory focuses on making use of electricity to change chemical bonds — fundamental medical analysis through a number of feasible programs. A vital focus is finding techniques to make skin tightening and (CO2), an important greenhouse gasoline, useful — study central to addressing climate change. Surendranath, which serves as the connect manager of the Carbon Capture, Utilization, and space Center, one of the Low-Carbon Energy Centers run because of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), claims, “Our whole team works on the grand difficulties MITEI undertakes in the low-carbon future of energy.”

A wealth of programs

Currently, the Surendranath group makes significant improvements in the design of catalysts for changing CO2 into carbon monoxide — work that keeps promise for one time making use of green energy to turn CO2 emissions into top-notch fuels. The laboratory has additionally create a brand-new graphite-based catalyst that may potentially replace pricey and rare metals in fuel cells.

“Our work is so fundamental, there’sn’t a specific application we’re targeting. Battery packs, gasoline cells, any electrochemical transduction technology will have an interfacial concern that we’re looking to deal with,” states postdoc Michael Pegis.

Interestingly, the 18 members of the laboratory tackle many different kinds of questions inside the broad-spectrum of electrochemical research. While Pegis deals with how electric fields manipulate the price of bond-breaking and bond-forming reactions in air reduction responses — work that could improve fuel cells, including — Jonathan “Jo” Melville, a PhD prospect and Tata Fellow, is looking into nitrogen fixation for fertilizers so that you can find a less energy-intensive method to produce meals.

“Nitrogen is key for feeding billions across the world,” Melville says, noting that without nitrogen-rich fertilizers, there would not be adequate arable land in the world to feed the population. Since the existing system of production makes use of fossil fuels, producing about 2 percent of anthropogenic CO2 emissions, Melville is looking to develop a renewable alternate procedure. “we went into chemistry because I really value resolving the energy crisis,” he claims.

Schreier’s work assumes the challenge of achieving a low-carbon future from another direction. He centers on the catalytic abilities of copper into the hope of finding new ways to store power chemically — work generally applicable towards challenge of improving the storage of power produced by such intermittent resources as solar and wind.

PhD prospect Soyoung Kim, at the same time, actively works to make useful chemicals from propane making use of metal-ion catalysts driven by electrical energy — a technique she claims will make it possible to maintain the reaction with power from renewable sources.

For laboratory people — including professionals in inorganic biochemistry, real biochemistry, chemical manufacturing, and electrochemistry — the wide array of work taking place within the laboratory expands the possibilities for helpful collaboration. “There’s such understanding in plenty areas, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about new things — like computational chemistry from the postdoc which sits behind me personally,” Pegis says.

Surendranath intentionally fosters this synergy through regular team meetings also off-site tasks such as walking trips and retreats. “i believe of technology as gift economic climate,” he states — with every specialist giving the gift of time and abilities to many other lab people entirely hope that comparable gifts may be returned.

“We help one another all the time, informally,” Schreier claims. “If somebody includes a problem, they begin attracting regarding the white board, and everyone will chime in and provide solutions.”

This esprit de corps carries through to each and every day lab tasks. There is no laboratory manager when you look at the Surendranath lab; duties are provided because of the staff, with individuals taking on such jobs as overseeing protection procedures, looking after specific devices, ordering solvents, and organizing cleanups. Recently, the team worked in shifts to bar-code 35,000 chemical substances. “in some instances, a laboratory manager can be useful, but it are good to gather to be sure the lab is just a cleaner and safer location,” Pegis states.

“We have actually laboratory jobs,” Schreier explains. “This works quite smoothly.”

Lab users in addition make their own hours and work-out disputes among themselves. “I give my pupils huge freedom,” claims Surendranath, who was simply recently awarded the Nobel Laureate Signature Award for Graduate Education in Chemistry through the United states Chemical community, along with his graduate pupil Anna Wuttig PhD ’18. (Wuttig happens to be a postdoc in the University of Ca at Berkeley.) “All I love is they value the research and do great work,” says Surendranath.

Mangoes, kites, and coconuts

With so much separate thinking, it’s not astonishing that the term “quirky” pops up plenty whenever members tend to be asked about the laboratory.

“Yogi is very supportive and friendly as supervisor, while super-energetic and engaging in terms of speaking about science. That features attracted numerous hard-working and quite often quirky individuals to the laboratory,” Kim states.

“It’s surely a really quirky group of people,” Pegis agrees.

Undoubtedly, the information applies also to Surendranath himself, that is crazy for mangoes, fascinated with tumbleweeds, and passionate about kite-flying. Maybe that’s why he built a group that aids each member — quirks and all.

Schreier informs a story to show. The laboratory was around hike collectively within the White Mountains and working behind schedule because Surendranath necessary to deliver a coconut with him — a laboratory tradition with notably obscure beginnings — and he had had trouble finding one. Therefore, when the group reached the top, everybody was eager to head back — except Schreier. He previously spotted a radio tower (a passion of his) and may perhaps not resist dashing off for closer look, delaying everybody else.

As he got back, “the whole group, with Yogi in center, had been waiting for me personally extremely patiently. It appeared to all of them more regular thing that I would personally should discover this transmitting tower,” he claims. The ability actually warmed Schreier’s heart and it is one explanation the group is really so special to him. “It’s how a team works. Everyone’s interests are taken seriously.”

Melville agrees, saying this level of support makes it easier for him to deal with the pressures of grad school and noting so it all originates from the top. “Yogi establishes the gold standard for proactive and ethical mentorship,” he states. “We love him.”

The experience is mutual. “Everyone loves my men and women,” Surendranath claims. “It is just a real delight to interact with enthusiastic, like-minded, passionate folks everyday and build relationships them on truly stimulating dilemmas … i do believe the tradition day-to-day is much more worthwhile as compared to technology, as you have an impact on people’s everyday lives: the way they mature.”

This short article appears when you look at the Autumn 2019 dilemma of Energy Futures, the mag of the MIT Energy Initiative.