I Will Never Be Complacent with My Current Life but Keep Challenging Myself

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Story about Student

I Will Never Be Complacent with My Current Life but Keep Challenging Myself

Jo Eun-mi (PhD Program at UST-Korea Institute of Science and Technology School (KIST) School, Energy Environment Convergence Engineering Major)

We all go through the time when we would choose a challenge over routine with no doubt. However, as we get older, our decision seems to be impacted by our current situation more. Between routine and challenge, we cannot say one is right over the other. It will be more about what choice we make and what we are willing to sacrifice. Jo Eun-mi at KIST School always seeks to challenge herself. She doesn’t want to be complacent with her life but keep bettering herself, which led her to where she is now.

My Dream, UST Made It Happen

After her master’s degree, Jo Eun-mi worked at a private company in the petrochemical industry for 2 years. As rewarding as the work was, she was disappointed in some things. For example, research projects at private companies are usually conducted with a short-term goal and it’s rare to be in charge of the project. This situation made Jo desire for more independent research. She eventually decided to go to a graduate school for a doctorate program.

As she faced a new challenge of her life, she got to learn about UST.

As I decided to continue my studies at graduate school, the biggest concern was how to maintain my financial independence that I have built while working at a job. And I learned that you can not only study for your degree but also take a salary at UST, which is why UST was the only way to achieve my dream.

Jo graduated from UST in the end of August. She was 30 years old, relatively old for starting a doctorate degree program, but she devoted herself to the research and worked harder than anyone, which resulted in outstanding outcomes.

In 2018, she was selected as the “next generation leader for science and technology” by the Korea Federation of Science and Technology Societies and participated in the US-Korea Conference on Science, Technology and Entrepreneurship (UKC) where she won first place in the poster presentation in the field of material science. In addition, in 2019, she also participated in the International Battery Association (IBA) through UST’s International Research Exchange Support Program and learned a lot for the new experience. In short, she was proactive in being part of various programs in and out of school so she sets the foundation for a bright future.

On the Cover of Angewandte Chemie

Earlier this year, there was exciting news that Jo's paper was chosen as the cover paper for Angewandte Chemie, the top journal in the field of chemistry.

Jo’s main research field is to analyze the cause of deterioration of the electrode material for secondary batteries and the stability of the electrode material using a transmission electron microscope (TEM). The driving principle of a lithium secondary battery is that lithium ions in the positive electrode move and insert into the negative electrode during charging, and return to their original place when discharged. Keeping the structural stability of the electrode material during charging and discharging is a way to maintain the performance of the secondary battery.

“In this paper, the cause of the reduced capacity after rapid discharge of NCA anode material, which is applied to Tesla electric vehicles, was analyzed through a transmission electron microscope. The conventional bulk analysis method shows the structural and chemical changes of the material on average. The transmission electron microscopy method developed by this research subdivides NCA anode particles down to tens of nm and can trace crystals and electronic structures from the surface to the interior of the particles.”

As a result, the faster the discharge rate, the harder lithium ions can reach the inside of the cathode material. Therefore, structure is recovered only on the surface. This phenomenon was termed structural inversion and was identified as the cause of degradation in the subsequent cycle capacity.

This will not only be applied to early diagnosis technology that detects miniscule changes in battery electrode materials in the future but will also play a fundamental role in developing high-performance and stable batteries and their materials.

Jo wasn’t in charge of this specific paper in the beginning; it was the research subject of Lee Hye-su, a student researcher and assistant of Jo’s. Lee finished her research and paper as she graduated with her master’s degree. She was trying to submit the paper but she didn’t see it going anywhere. Professor Jang Won-young, who thought it was unlucky because the research itself is great, suggested Jo redesign the study.

I was worried at first. I doubted if there is anything I can contribute to this study when it was already done. However, when I investigated it, there were things to improve and Professor Jang Won-young and Dr. Kim Seung-min helped guide me to the new direction. So, I was able to enhance the quality of the study. And gladly, that’s how my paper was selected as the cover paper of Angewandte Chemie.

Jo’s relentless effort during her time at UST finally paid off. She’s facing another new challenge: she is going to start her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Texas at Austin. This is supported by the Research Foundation of Korea’s Overseas Training Support Program for Postdoctoral Fellow, which she learned about at UST, as well. UST never stops surprising her with how much they care about the students. Congratulations for your graduation! Jo said she will never be complacent with her life and will keep challenging herself until her 60’s. The conversation from the interview with her still resonates with us. We wonder about how her new challenges will craft her life.