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Past Fortnightly

Illuminating the Invisible: Cryo-EM for Battery Design with Prof. Yuzhang Li

January 25, 2022

Cryo-EM received the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for its ability to elucidate the nanostructure of biomolecules in their native state, revolutionizing the field of structural biology. By leveraging this powerful technique to study battery materials, Prof. Yuzhang Li of UCLA and his colleagues have revealed the atomic structure of reactive battery materials and interfaces for the first time (Science 358, 506–510, 2017), demonstrating its potential impact for battery research. Indeed, one of the most important yet unanswered questions in battery research still remains: what are the structures and chemistries present across liquid-solid battery interfaces and how do they evolve with time?

To bridge this gap in understanding, Prof. Li has adopted and innovated cryo-EM techniques in order to resolve these sensitive liquid-solid interfaces and correlate them with battery performance. In work just published in Science, Prof. Li and his co-authors further innovate cryo-EM techniques towards battery research by leveraging a thin film vitrification method to preserve the sensitive battery interfaces in their native liquid electrolyte environments for high resolution imaging and spectroscopy. The preliminary data reveals a significant swelling ratio between dry and wet states of the solid electrolyte interphase (SEI), a ubiquitous yet poorly understood corrosion film formed on the surface of battery anodes (Science 375, 66-70, 2022). This surprising discovery highlights the promising potential of cryo-EM to enable new fundamental understanding and insights for materials research.

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    Guest bio

    Prof. Yuzhang Li

    Prof. Yuzhang Li

    Assistant Professor | Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

    Yuzhang Li is an Assistant Professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. He received his bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering from UC Berkeley and his Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering from Stanford University. As a graduate student in Professor Yi Cui’s group, Yuzhang developed both engineering solutions and advanced characterization tools to make breakthroughs in next-generation batteries. Now, the Li Group at UCLA pursues innovations in energy and environmental technologies, which require advancements in both (1) fundamental characterization and (2) materials design. The synergy between these two broad research thrusts will bring practical applications in the short-term, while revealing new foundations to build long-term solutions. Yuzhang’s research has been highlighted by news media including Forbes, Popular Mechanics, and ABC7 Bay Area, while also being recognized with several awards, including the Cubicciotti Award of the Electrochemical Society and the Graduate Student Gold Award of the Materials Research Society. —

    Co-hosts - Meet our field experts.

    • Dr.  Austin Sendek

      Dr. Austin Sendek

      CEO, Aionics Inc

    • Dr. Venkat Viswanathan

      Dr. Venkat Viswanathan

      Chief Scientist, Aionics