LU Yingying: Doing research is a spiral of trial and error

2019-05-10 Global Communications

Editor's note: Recently the Beijing News interviewed Dr. LU Yingying from ZJU’s College of Chemical Engineering about her research. Here is a translated extract of the interview.

Born in 1988, LU Yingying is one of the youngest PhD supervisors at ZJU. As a scientist in chemical engineering, LU believes doing research is a spiral of trial and error, and encourages women to think independently.

1. The Beijing NewsProf. Lynden A. Archer, your PhD supervisor at Cornell University spoke highly of your doctoral research. The research findings were regarded as a major breakthrough in the battery industry. Can you briefly introduce your work in the field of lithium battery? 

LU Yingying: Although I have received recognition for my work, I’m fully aware that the major challenges in the development of lithium metal battery cannot be tackled by any one person.

As early as in 1988, there were companies trying to industrialize lithium metal batteries. But the idea was abandoned after years of failure in safety tests. At present, lithium ion batteries and lead-acid batteries are most popular in the market. Also we see the emergence of new types of batteries like sodium-sulfur batteries and flow batteries. We expect to see further enhancement in energy density through improvement of materials and battery safety, so that the research of lithium metal battery can be regenerated.


2. The Beijing News: What are the main factors that constrain the commercialization of lithium metal batteries?

LU Yingying: Lithium metal brings out many problems when used in batteries, such as the unstable electrodeposition and swelling in charge circles. In terms of application of lithium-sulfur batteries, the shuttle effect occurring in the process largely degrades the battery capacity.

Plus, lithium is a very active metal that may react with many components in batteries, which causes safety issues as well as capacity loss. These problems need to be solved at the same time, which is really a tough nut to crack. Currently we still face bottleneck in the commercialization of lithium metal batteries. But I believe we will definitely see the application of lithium metal batteries one day, as many research teams are making progress.


3. The Beijing News: Recent years have seen the roll-outs of various new electric vehicles, which boost the demand for lithium batteries with higher power capacities. Do you think the development of lithium batteries has reached a ceiling?

LU Yingying: At present, we can raise the mileage on one charge of electric cars with lithium batteries in two ways. One is to add battery packs, like the 18650 and 21700 Li-ion cells in Tesla model S. The cell capacity levels up through the efficient battery configuration and battery management system. This is to increase the capacity by enlarging the size or adding more weight.

The other method is to increase the energy density per cell by upgrading materials. What we hope for is to increase the cell capacity without making the cell larger and heavier.


4. The Beijing News: What are the most important traits as researchers?

LU Yingying: Devotion is important. It may take a long period of time, not merely one or two years, to see the fruits of your research.

Second is independent thinking. Doing research is not like preparing for an exam, where many questions can be answered by looking up information in books. Many scientific questions remain unexplored, which call for open minds and concerted efforts.

Instead of finding the truth, doing research is more of proving the false. Trials, failures and more trials help you come to a conclusion that is infinitely close to the truth.


5. The Beijing News: Have you ever felt bothered by managing work-family balance? What advice would you give to working women?

LU Yingying: I support women in becoming housewives, and I support women in joining the workforce. But you have to make your own decision, not being told by others. It would be great for a woman to think independently and find her own path.

In general, it’s not easy for women to manage work-family balance. Women are more likely to face tradeoffs between personal role and productive role. But I still believe if career and family are balanced well, women can pull off on both sides.


Edited and translated by TAO Yuan & HE Jiawen