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Mark Hersam Leads Battery-Powered Science Cafe

McCormick materials science expert says smallest details may revolutionize future of energy

November 8, 2019 | By Roger Anderson

Mark Hersam, the Walter P. Murphy Professor of Materials Science and Engineering

It’s hard to imagine a person reading this who hasn’t had their day affected by a lithium-ion battery.

But as ubiquitous as the rechargeable battery has become, Mark Hersam, the Walter P. Murphy Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, believes that lithium-ion technology remains poised to fully revolutionize the world of transportation and renewable energy.

“Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries have evolved from bulky, low-energy-density devices that could barely power a cell phone to high-energy-density devices that can now power automobiles,” says Hersam, director of the Northwestern University Materials Research Center. “This progression will likely continue to the point where most transportation — including nearly all cars and probably also trucks, trains, and airplanes — will utilize increasingly higher-energy-density lithium-ion technology, in addition to the traditional power grid.”

Hersam’s optimism stems from various scientific discoveries suggesting that nanostructured battery materials offer a compelling path forward for next-generation lithium-ion batteries. So far, inherent problems related to safety, energy density, charging time, and operating temperature have hindered the large-scale adoption of some lithium-ion battery technologies.

At this month’s Science Café, Hersam will discuss the inner workings of the batteries, including how performance is related to constituent materials. The public event takes place November 20, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. at the Firehouse Grill, 750 Chicago Ave. in Evanston.

“Imagine a future where lithium-ion batteries are safer, operate seamlessly on the hottest summer days and the coldest winter nights, and can be charged in minutes instead of hours,” says Hersam. “That day may arrive sooner than people think.”