Society of Physics Students chapter wins national research award

Abdullah Al Maruf works to apply a thin film coating
In this January 2020 photo, Abdullah Al Maruf works with a plasma annealing chamber to create a thin film coating of lithium metal nitride to the lithium anode. The South Dakota State University Society of Physics Students Chapter won the 2020 SPS Chapter Research Award.

South Dakota State University’s Society of Physics Students Chapter won the 2020 SPS Chapter Research Award. The chapter, which has been honored as an outstanding chapter the past two years, is trying to improve energy storage when using lithium metal a different way in batteries.

By guiding the lithium deposition behavior, the student researchers in the chapter hope to create a longer cycling life while increasing energy density and safety in lithium ion batteries.

Current lithium ion battery technology uses graphite as anode material, but the chapter is using lithium as an anode, because lithium has nearly 10 times more specific capacity than graphite, according to Abdullah Al Maruf. He is a senior majoring in physics and mathematics from Gazipur, Bangladesh.

2019-20 SPS chapter
Recipients of the chapter research award were, from left, front row, Abdullah Al Maruf (project leader), Liton Biswas, Robert McTaggart (chapter adviser), and Rajesh Pathak. Standing are Nicholas Carlson and Ke Chen. This photo was taken January 2020.

“Maruf has been instrumental to this project,” said Robert McTaggart, an associate professor in the Department of Physics and is the faculty adviser for the Society of Physics Students. “Energy storage is a grand challenge for our future, and this is another example of what groundbreaking work students in both engineering and physics can do at SDSU.”

Maruf said using lithium metal as an electrode has some drawbacks too, both in terms of performance and safety as they develop dendrites, needlelike tiny metal particles, which could puncture other internal structure of the battery and cause a short circuit. Since the electrolyte solvent in lithium batteries is flammable, a short circuit could cause a fire.

SDSU’s project uses a partially lithiophilic nonconductive matrix (PLNM) as the lithium host, which is constructed on a glass fiber matrix with only one side having a lithiophilic coating. The nonconductive coating can potentially help to prevent dendrite growth by depositing the lithium more smoothly.