Women in Battery Research

2020-02-10

February 11th is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. The day recognizes the critical role women and girls play in science and technology.

We took the opportunity to ask some of the female researchers within the BATTERY 2030+ consortium about how they got into science and what they think needs to be done to get more women into the field of battery research:

1. What is your research about?
2. Why did you choose to get into science?
3. What needs to be done to get more women into the field of battery research?

Julia Amici, Researcher at Politecnico di Torino, Italy

1). “I am working on the development of materials for Li-ion and post Li-ion (Li-sulfur and Li-air) batteries, at cell level. I started my research on this topic during my Post-Doc, after a PhD centered on polymers for other applications. In particular, during my Post-Doc I worked on the preparation and characterization of cathodic active materials for Li-air batteries as well as polymer membranes able to specifically block or let through oxygen.”

“Afterward, I shifted toward Li-sulfur batteries once again on the preparation and characterization of cathodic active materials and polymer interlayer membranes to block polysulfide shuttling.”
“Lately, I went back focusing on my first love: polymers, working on polymer electrolytes to allow longer and safer cycling of metallic Li cells through, for example, the use of self-healing materials.”

2). “Since I was a child, I was always curious to understand how everything was working. Where did the rainbow come from, how could electricity light a lamp, why soap in water formed foam, and from a very young age I understood that science was a way to get answers. So, I guess I could say that my curiosity got me into science.”

3). “In general, we are missing women in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and I guess it’s because, historically, those were seen as boy’s areas of interest. Therefore, I would say that we need information campaigns (and the International Day of Women in Science is a really good initiative) to show girls from a young age that they belong to the field as much as boys do.”

“In my opinion, it is also very important to advertise the achievements of women scientists, in the field of battery as well as other fields, to encourage women to perseverate.”

“Last but not least, education is of course at the heart of everything. Until now Europe has been lacking serious education program on energy storage, fortunately this should be about to change, and it’s very important to encourage women to follow these new programs by communication and advertising campaigns.”

Elixabete Ayerbe, Researcher, Cidetec Energy Storage, Spain

1). “I received my degree as a Chemical Engineer at the Technical School of University of Zaragoza in 2002 and Master in Industrial Mathematics delivered by the Technical University of Madrid in 2007. After several years working at research centers, I started my current job, as Project Manager in the Materials for Energy Unit at Cidetec Energy Storage in 2007.”

“At the moment, I am leading the modelling and post-mortem group of the unit that works on the development of multiphysics and optimization models for lithium ion and advanced Li-ion batteries.”

“I am currently coordinating H2020 Defacto project and coordinated in the past the FP7 SHEL project. Additionally, I represented and represent the multiphysics modelling activity of Cidetec in H2020 SPICY, HIFI ELEMENTS, SPIDER and BATTERY 2030+ projects. I am also doing my PhD in the field of advanced numerical implementation on battery models.”

2). “Although I have been working in science for the last 15 years I was recently attending a conference talk by Professor Thackeray when he did provide a really valuable message to students in science, encouraging them to be passionate in the work, and to be guided by instinct. That conference made me think about why I got into science at that time and the answer is curiosity and exploration.”

“I would say that I have always been curious to understand the “why” behind everything. Since I was young, I have been aware of the need of protecting the environment for the benefit of nature and humans. In this regard, I used to dream thinking that my work could potentially improve the environment. All this curiosity, interest and needs of exploration together with my passion on mathematics, brought me to get into the field of battery modelling which is linked somehow to my personal aim on improving energy efficiency and tackling critical environmental issues.”

3). “I think that there is a huge amount of work to be done to ensure that we are attracting, recruiting and retraining talented women into the battery research field. But, I believe that these issues go far wider than research community itself. Tackling them will require a joint approach from the research community, government and commissioning authorities, beginning with children at primary school and continuing throughout education and training and in the workplace.”

“Additionally, there are several organizations dedicated to raising the aspirations of young girls around the world by connecting them with female role models. In this regard, I believe that we – women at battery research field – could contribute by participating in this kind of pioneer projects for the promotion of the scientific and technological vocation among girls based on awareness-raising and orientation actions.

Pascale Bayle-Guillemaud, Deputy Head of the Interdisciplinary Research Institute of Grenoble, CEA, France

1). “I am a physicist specializing in materials science. I started research during my PhD, and for three years, I discovered that by using transmission electron microscopy, I could observe atoms! It was for me at that time a wonderful tool to understand how atoms were stacked in thin metallic films, to measure the deformation at the atomic scale or to observe the phase changes when the thickness of these films varies.”

“Then, during a post-doctorate in England, I used the transmission electron microscope to map magnetic films. Indeed, the electrons are sensitive to the magnetic field in the samples and we were able to use Lorentz microscopy to map the magnetization in the magnetic heterostructures which are now used in the read heads of computers.”

“Back in France I got a research position at the CEA research center in Grenoble. I then developed another TEM capability, the electron energy loss spectroscopy (EELS), which I used to study nanomaterials.”

“Finally, colleagues from chemistry came to see me because they needed to understand the distribution of the chemical phases in their battery electrodes. Therefore, at the beginning of the 2010’s I started to study these materials and to develop suitable protocols to minimize the irradiation of the electron beam and to obtain the mapping of the chemical phases of the solid electrolyte interface, in order to understand the degradation Si-based electrodes.

Meanwhile, a lot of energy has been spent on battery research in my institute and we have extended our skills to other characterization methods and developed in-depth expertise for operando characterization in large-scale installations using X-rays and neutrons, NMR, tomography.”

“Today, I promote the activities of my research institute for batteries, being now deputy director of this interdisciplinary research institute of Grenoble (IRIG), which brings together more than 1,000 people.”

2). “Very young, I was always much more interested in science lessons! I started to study at the university and after my Master's degree, I was fortunate to have a thesis subject that fascinated me and to meet great people who convinced me to continue in science.”

3). “As a physicist I meet much more women in the field of battery than in pure physics area. There are more women in chemistry and electrochemistry than in physics. So, for me it is more the question how to bring young women in science and in research.”

“Young people are very connected and great stories of careers as women in research could certainly influence or at least encourage young women to do research, and why not in the battery field.”

Katharina Becker-Steinberger, Researcher, Helmholtz-Institut Ulm, Germany

1). ”We are researching battery cell technologies for electrified mobility applications. As part of the Department of Computational Physical-Chemical Modeling at Helmholtz-Institutin Ulm, I am working on theory-based continuum modeling and the numerical simulation of all-solid-state batteries.”

“The aim is to improve the understanding of the processes and limitations in inorganic and polymeric solid electrolytes, to support material manufacturing and production. The focus is on systematic studies of phenomena that are experimentally hardly or not at all accessible.”

2). “I have always been interested in science. I'm also curious and interested in understanding things better and moving them forward.”

3). “Since battery research is based on the natural sciences, this goes hand in hand with the question of how these subjects can attract more women. This begins with science subjects in school and later at university where qualified, encouraging teaching is required. If you want to construct a “deflector shield”, you must know what a “deflector shield” is.”

Maitane Berecibar, Senior Researcher, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium

1). “I am the managing director of the Battery Innovation Center at VUB (research group Mobi). Our activities focus on the research and development of various rechargeable energy storage systems.”

“The research area covers different aspects of batteries at different scales starting from small coin cells up to large battery packs. Through in-depth characterization supported by multiscale mathematical modelling, we have been contributing significantly to the development process of rechargeable energy storage systems.”

2). “Science is my passion. The understanding on how, why, when, where everything happens in our world. Isn’t it fascinating?”

“In addition, more concretely for energy storage systems or batteries, we are every single day working for a more sustainable world, with less climate impact by building solutions for a cleaner, greener world.”

3). “The five-step engineering approach to get more females in battery research starts with educating our kids equally – follow more equal educational, parenting and professional systems. Girls can do applied engineering science, and we need them!”

“The second step; showcase. Highlight female researchers in engineering science, highlight female CEOs CFOs of big industry. I was lucky, my two references have been female researchers.”

“Third; give opportunities. Create more opportunities, hire female researchers.”

“Fourth; trust. For female researchers, there is a need on constantly demonstrating your excellence. As a consequence, excellent female researchers might fear to participate and lead innovation. Emphasize the work of female researchers and encourage them to interact more by giving them confidence in themselves.”

“The fifth step; flexibility is key. Research moves fast and requires us to be present at many events, conferences and meetings. Being present and have the possibility to travel is essential. And family is important, so flexibility and work-life balance conditions are needed.”

Silvia Bodoardo, Associate Professor, Politecnico di Torino, Italy

1). “I am leading the Electrochemistry Group at Politecnico di Torino, where we are working on innovative materials for lithium based batteries. In particular our work focuses on post lithium ion technologies to enhance properties and increase performance. Some new activities are on novel cells design to get new type of cells combining high energy and high power.” 

2). “Curiosity… the curiosity to understand natural processes came first. Today it is more on how we can use natural phenomena to obtain new sustainable storage systems to help the transition to renewable energies and electric vehicles.”

3). “We really need to get visibility to show how women are not worse than men in all fields. We need to stress that education has to be accessible to all gender equally. This process should start already at the secondary school and in families.”

“We also need to disseminate our results in society and be more present in media.”

Kristina Edström, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry and Coordinator of BATTERY 2030+, Uppsala University, Sweden

1). “I study different kinds of batteries and battery materials. I am particularly interested in mechanisms for how ions are transported in solids. I am also interested in how different materials react in the interface to each other to understand what parameters that make batteries to last for a long time when used in an application.”

2). “I have always been interested in scientific questions. I liked to study already as a small child. I think I was very much inspired by questions rather than answers. My heroes were people that said that there was still needs to study and understand more about something.”

3). “We need to show the love for science rather than discussing the difficulties and obstacles. We need to give young scientists good conditions so that they see that there is a long-term commitment.”

“At younger age I do think that not choosing to specialize too young on a specific direction is important. Role models are also important and then to show normal people that can combine science with a family.”

Aurora Gomez Martin, Post Doc, University of Münster, Germany

1). “My current research focuses on the development and improvement of Ni-rich cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries.”

2). “My interest in material science subjects, and more specifically energy storage devices, started when I figured out the great importance this discipline was gaining in industrial applications, which are of vital significance not only for the future human wellbeing, but also for environmental sustainability.” “In my opinion, many of the most pressing scientific problems our society is currently facing are due to the limits and lack of understanding of the materials we are using. Thus, breakthroughs in materials science are likely to significantly affect the successfully future development of our civilization. That is why I am certain about taking an active part on this road towards meeting future energy demands while easing pressure on the environment.”

3). “Although several steps are being taken to make this change, women still continue to be extremely small in numbers in comparison to men in the field of battery research. From my point of view, it is of crucial importance to break the gender biases and stereotypes from the early childhood education, and make children understand that science can also be a women's thing!”

“It would be beneficial to seek gender balance in this field by giving more public visibility to actual female scientists in order to awake the curiosity of young girls who have not decided their career path yet.”

Maria Hahlin, Researcher, Uppsla University, Sweden

1). “My research focuses on fundamental understanding of the processes that occur at interfaces within batteries.” 

2). “I think that as a student meeting researchers at the university inspired me to take this track. I focused my research towards contributing to a sustainable energy system, and I am is still happy about that choice.” 

3). “This is a very hard question, which I think many has though much more about before me. Today, there is generally fewer women in science. I find that the dominating part of the female scientist that I meet in academia are very skillful and driven.”
“One step towards increasing the number of women could be to make sure that the women which are already here has the support they need to stay and be successful in academia.”

“More diversity at all positions will ultimately be an environment that is appealing to all. If there are more women at all positions (more gender balanced), this will be a more appealing work place and I believe that more women would like to stay in such environment. Particularly focusing on the field of batteries, we that work in the field should tell more about the interesting science that we do every day!”

Ivana Hasa, Researcher, Helmholz Institute Ulm, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany

1). “I study and investigate new battery technologies for energy storage application. My research is inherently interdisciplinary tackling challenges at the interface of chemistry, materials science and electrochemistry.”

“Specifically, I am interested in gaining a fundamental understanding of the thermodynamic and kinetic processes governing the function of sodium-ion batteries, which I consider one of the most promising next generation sustainable energy storage technology. Development and optimization of technically relevant electrode materials and electrolytes, and the understanding of their surface and bulk properties in sodium-ion batteries are the core of my research interest.”

“By implementing a rational understanding of the structure/function correlation of the designed electrochemical materials, the next generation environmentally friendly and cost-effective Sodium-ion batteries have the potential to become the future technology innovation.”

2). “Science comes into our lives every time we have a question, a curiosity, a need. This means that science persuades our life in every aspect. Since I was a kid, I have always felt the need to try to deeply understand everything around me.”

“That feeling never changed for me. The emotions that you get when you understand something is priceless. If you also consider that the question you may answer has the potential to positively impact the life of many people and make a better society, the feeling that you get is pure joy. I have the opportunity to work in a research field that has the potential – and also the duty – to lead us toward a more sustainable and greener future, where batteries can bridge the gap between a clean energy production and utilization, securing energy supply to everyone.”

“However, the challenge is not easy and despite the willingness to find the solution and constantly question your work, I must admit that, as a result, I am confused most of the times, but I don’t mind being confused, it keeps my brain active and my thoughts flowing.”

3). “The field of battery research is an amazing scientific challenge, in which everyone is needed with their creative and innovative ideas and solutions. We all have the responsibility to create a better future with cleaner energy, available to everyone.”

“As a scientist and woman working in science, I feel the duty to spread the voice and tell to all women to follow their curiosities and their instincts, to not let anyone tell them what they are capable of and to think that we are, as anybody else, equally as deserving to be in this field.”

“In battery research, but more generally in science, lot of work has to be done to achieve a gender-equal working place. Years of story have created biased opinions, but I believe that we all need to work together to educate the new generation of human thinkers in a bias-free society, where everyone’s creativity, passion, intelligence is needed and equally rewarded.”

Janna Hofmann, young group leader at Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT), Germany

1). “My research is about manufacturing technology and production science. In my research group we develop new concepts for process modelling and optimization for the production of batteries. The focus is on post-lithium research in addition to classic lithium-ion technology.”

“Another aspect of our research is the development of machines for the production of format flexible battery cells. Our research is carried out in an interdisciplinary team together with materials scientists, chemical engineers, chemists, electrical engineers and us mechanical engineers.”

2). “I decided to do my doctorate after my master's degree because I wanted to work in a young environment with a lot of freedom to discover new things. Since I don't want to loose this way of working, I easily decided to stay in research after finishing my PhD.”

3). “Compared to classical mechanical engineering, we are many women in the field of battery research, but we have to make it clear to young girls at school that research is a great career path that offers many opportunities for development.”

Karin Kleiner, Post Doc, University of Münster, Germany

1). “My research is about the electronic and crystallographic structure of cathode materials (energy density and lifetime limitations in cathode materials).

2). “It was the fascination about how everything works that got me into science.”

3). “The culture of discussions, reviews, appointing people, etc, needs to change. Women are not very aggressive and do not battle for attention (in contrast to men) in making their points, even if they have important things to say. Therefore, they are often overlooked.”

Hongjiao Li, Post Doc and Junior Group Leader, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany

1). “My research is about theoretical simulations on batteries, from the very specific properties of a single component to the design of a better battery, with the aid of ab initio methods and workflows.”

2). “I guess the reason why I got into science is because of my curiosity and influence from my family. My father used to run a small factory that was producing alloy tubes for fountains and I saw the whole process of the production, from melting the raw material to the final molding of the product, when I was in elementary school. It was amazing for a young girl. I guess it was natural for me to choose science and technology.”

3). “With the increase of the number of women with PhD’s, I guess there will be more and more female scientists in battery research. The most difficult thing for a woman in a scientific area is the balance between family and work. Although it is normally the fact for almost every job, it is extremely harsh in science since where the development is so fast and the competition is so intense”.

“In my opinion, there should be more training for women to help their scientific development and more tolerance on the speed in producing scientific results. You could never expect a mother spending the same time and energy on work as their male colleagues.” 

Julia Maibach, Researcher, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Germany

1). ”Together with my team, I explore surface and interface phenomena in rechargeable batteries using various photoelectron spectroscopy techniques.”

“We focus mainly on understanding and improving the processes leading to the solid electrolyte interphase on negative electrodes in lithium ion batteries but also expand to post-Li battery chemistries.”

2). “I have always been excited to learn and driven by curiosity. Working in science, I get to follow those passions every day. I also got fascinated by experimental work early on during my studies and I still enjoy experiments with all the struggles and failures that become all worth it in the little moments of success when you realize that you just observed or understood something, that nobody has before.”

“I chose the field of energy research because I saw it as an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to some of the biggest problems we face in society. Time will tell if we succeed.”

3). “Sadly, I have not yet found a magic solution to help achieve gender equality in battery research.”

“Personally, I try to share my passion for the topic in my teaching and every other opportunity to inspire students to join this exciting research field. Just like I have been inspired by female role models, especially during my Post Doc years.”

Maeva Philippot, PhD student, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium

1). “My research interest is on environmental and social impacts of batteries. The full life cycle is included, from raw material extraction (mining) to end of life (recycling).”

“In Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) I assess not only greenhouse gas emissions but also other impacts such as particulate matter formation, acidification, toxicity and water scarcity. In social Life Cycle Assessment, I study the impacts on the workers, mainly, all along the value chain. I study current technologies: NMC, NCA and silicon based anodes, but also future technologies such as solid state and lithium metal anode.

2). “I have always been interested in science. As long as I remember maths and sciences were my favorite subjects at school. I was also pushed by my mother that would have wanted to study science however her parents didn’t let her to do so.”

3). “That’s a tough question! First question would be, how to get more women into science? Obviously, having women models is very important. In the media, women experts are scarce which probably is a wrong message to young people. Communication is for me a key.”

Edel Sheridan, Senior Researcher, Sintef, Norway

1). “Currently my work focuses on supporting research and coordinating both industrial and academic stakeholders in the field to generate a common vision and agenda for Battery Research in Europe. As deputy of the Batteries Europe ETIP and a member of Battery 2030+, I have the opportunity to work with expert groups across the entire value chain.” 

“At Sintef we carry out research across the battery value chain from advanced materials and manufacturing to integration and recycling. We work with and strongly support companies who aim to bring both battery cell and pack production and materials to the market.”

“Earlier I carried out laboratory research in the areas of Li ion batteries, supercapacitors and metal air batteries, but in addition to batteries I have synthesised catalysis for fuel cells, developed gas separation membranes and investigated electrochemical sensors.”

“Having a varied background carries with it the advantages of a wide knowledge base from which one can combine concepts across different disciplines, giving birth to new ideas.  I would recommend every researcher, to occasionally read some publications outside your field of expertise.”

2). “I enjoyed science in school and had an excellent chemistry and biology teacher, Mrs Doolin who encouraged me to apply for a science degree. I took my teachers advice and during my studies at Maynooth University in Ireland, I had the good fortune to study under the Department of Chemistry, which had an unusual acclaim in that there was gender balance among the academic staff.”

“I found both my BSc and PhD studies very interesting. Research provided the opportunity to discover and create something entirely new which is always motivating, exciting and endlessly challenging.”

3). “During my career I have had a series of women mentors who normalized the idea of women in research.”

“When I presented at my first academic conference, it was a shock for me to discover that the world of electrochemistry had very few female researchers. I clearly remember a lecture hall filled with a sea of men in dark suits punctuated by one or two brightly dressed women.”

“My PhD supervisor Professor Carmel Breslin was an influential role model to me and thought me by example, not to be daunted or discouraged by the gender inequality in the field and indeed encouraged me to speak up and be heard. I have experience that there are also many men who strongly support a better gender balance in academia.”

“In order to get more women in to battery research, we need to provide more female role models and mentors. Industry and Academia need to make provision for and support women, particularly those who chose to have children."