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Broaden the Horizon of the Water Oxidation Catalyst Research in the University of Oregon, US (Hyosang Jeon, KIST, Clean Energy and Chemical Engineering Major (Coterminal course))

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  • Registration Date : 2015-12-28
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When I was selected for the three-month “UST Overseas training support project,” I departed for it without hesitation. I had been conducting my research only within KIST during the five years of my doctoral course and I was curious to find out which level I had reached and how foreign laboratories conducted research projects. So, the overseas training was a great and unmissable opportunity to quench my curiosity and concerns.

 

 

Checked the global level of the water oxidation catalyst research


The training program was held in the University of Oregon, a private university located in Eugene, Oregon, US. This school, the alma mater of Phil Knight who is the founder of Nike, welcomed me with in its well-balanced campus that featured antique and state-of-the-art buildings together. Though I marveled at their sight, the atmosphere of the campus was quite distracting with the new building construction works going on while there were no students as it was the vacation period. The theme of my research project was the water oxidation catalyst of which active research had been taking place on a global level. Catalyst development requires well-functioning analytical equipment. The lab where I conducted my research project there belonged to Prof. Shannon of the Chemistry Department, renowned for the outstanding research results of her water oxidation catalyst research. She conducted her research about catalysts with the help of the lab’s equipment infrastructure and rich experience.

 

The University of Oregon had an equipment called CAMCOR (Center for Advanced Materials Characterization in Oregon) and research staff who possessed global-level skills to handle it. The reason I chose this school without hesitation was that I believed it had a good environment where I could come up with good research results within a short-term period. Aside from its equipment and staff, the school also had Prof. Shannon, a leading authority in the field. She was a German-American who looked quite young and was probably in her 40s, but her research outcomes were as excellent as that of any other professor. In particular, her recent research results were so varied and remarkable. Until recently, the reason why NiOOH―among many water oxidation catalysts―performs excellently as a catalyst had not been identified. However, Prof. Shannon’s research team discovered for the first time that although the NiOOH material is not excellent as a catalyst, iron (Fe) impurities existing in the solution interacts with it and creates excellent catalyst performance. Based on the discovery, the team published several papers on leading science journals.

 

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Sharing research and life with the local students


The research that I performed during the training period was related to the theme of my doctoral research, “solar fuel system” (developing equipment that can generate fuels necessary to our everyday lives using the infinite solar energy), which needs various kinds of technology. One of them is the water oxidation catalyst technology, which can seamlessly generate oxygen by oxidating water (water oxidation catalyst technology). The aforementioned is essential to realizing the idea of solar fuel equipment to reduce the huge energy loss that takes place during the operation of the fuel generator.

One of the impressions I received during the period was that students felt strongly confident in their own research. Another one was that I witnessed firsthand students asking questions and sharing opinions with each other without the slightest hesitation, which was similar with what I had heard a lot about the discussion culture in American schools. The white board in the lab was always filled with expressions and discussion memos written by the enthusiastic students, and it was really impressive that they got good ideas based on those kind of discussions. The most impressive part was the research discussion session that was autonomously led by students. Through the discussion, they raised issues about their respective projects and discussed with other students to solve them, thus broadening their own research capabilities. They disclosed their experiments and talked about experimental problems with other students to deal with them by themselves, which actually helped them a lot. Their lifestyle was not much different from their research style. As it has been said that different people do not actually have different lives, their day?to-day lives were not much different from those in Korea. As such, I did not feel any great inconvenience. After the day’s work, I got along with the local students, drinking beers and chatting, as well as sometimes hanging around to find famous restaurants on weekends. I even went fishing with one of my American friends whom I got acquainted with there. My life and research were well balanced in the three months.

 

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Cherishing the hope for another training opportunity.

 

The three-month training was a precious time when I was able to realize what I want and what I should do in the future. For UST students who want to participate in the training program, I would like to recommend to them to hesitating and just apply. This is not only with regard to research projects, the training program would also provide good opportunities to expand their outlook and experience. A few days before I came back to Korea, I was infected with shingles, which lasted for weeks even after I came home. Now, I fully recovery and went back to my daily life, but I realized once again that health was more important than anything else. Shingles made me recognize again that my family’s and my own health is the starting point in the process of creating good research outcomes. However, if possible, I would like to go to an overseas training again. As I have not yet solved my curiosity and thrist about research, I want to attend a training program through which I can learn to handle particular equipment such as the XPS (in-situ XPS) that show real-time chemical composition changes of materials. Many analytical equipment being developed in other countries are not yet introduced in Korea. So, if possible, I would like to have another opportunity to learn about the useful analytical equipment of other countries.