My summer research placement was at Osaka University in Japan. For twelve weeks, I was hosted by the Surface/Interface Chemistry Group of the Department of Materials Engineering Science. One of the major topics of research in this laboratory is the behavior of room temperature ionic liquids (RTILs) at electrode surfaces. RTILs have high charge density and low volatility, which makes them an appealing choice of electrolyte in electrochemical energy storage technology and a safer alternative to existing devices such as lithium-ion batteries. My research was studying the capacitance of gold electrodes structured with spherical protrusions at ionic liquid interfaces. I fabricated the desired structured electrode surface by depositing gold nanoparticles onto a flat gold electrode, examined the resulting surface on the nanoscale using Scanning Electron Microscopy, and determined the differential capacitance using Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy. This opportunity to perform graduate-level research independently and work hands-on in an advanced chemical laboratory setting was an eye-opening experience because it exposed me to the side of engineering that focuses on fundamental theories, which is very different from the application side often emphasized in coursework and industry. It was also an invaluable growth opportunity; by taking a leading role on an experiment and making the decisions on how to proceed with testing, I developed my skills as a researcher by learning first-hand from my mistakes and triumphs.
The chance to live in Osaka and immerse myself in the culture was incredibly rewarding, all the more so because of the unwavering friendship and support shown to me from the members of my laboratory from the moment I arrived. The wonderful memories I made with them are by far some of my favourite of my time in Japan. Other stand-out moments include getting up close to wild Japanese Snow Monkeys in Kyoto, eating a freshly-caught sushi breakfast in Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Fish Market, and climbing to the top of Mount Fuji!