Graduate Student Highlight: Jennifer Leary

Name:  Jennifer (Jenny) Leary

Degree Program:  PhD in FPS and TTM

Advisor(s):  Dr. Behnam Pourdeyhimi, Dr. Benoit Maze

Degrees you have:  BFA in Painting (Cornell); MA in Design for Textile Futures (Central Saint Martins, London)

Where are you from?  San Francisco, California, United States

What is your town / country like?   It’s a diverse place with great food from all around the world and creative people pursuing all kinds of forward-thinking ideas. I highly recommend visiting it!

Why did you decide to pursue your degree at NC State University? The only class I took in textiles as an undergrad at Cornell was taught by a professor who had studied at NC State. She described it as the hub for textile research, and when I came to visit the college and saw the scale of all of the equipment, it was even more impressive. It’s the best launching pad to learn the skills needed for our unique industry.

Give a short description of your research:  Energy storage devices, such as fuel cells and supercapacitors, contain two electrodes that shuttle electrons and chemical species back and forth, and transfer the current to an external circuit that can power a device. The amount of electrons that can be stored (charge) is proportional to the surface area of the electrodes, so fibrous materials (high surface area) can be really well-suited for this application. Of course, they are required to be conductive, so my research is focused on how to impart conductivity to the fabrics. Instead of metallic conductors, we use only carbon-based conductive materials which are much more stable in an electrochemical environment.

How does your research impact the world? Hopefully by contributing a small piece to the big challenge of storing and delivering energy from renewable sources.

Have you published your work yet and/or received any awards?  If you have published, please provide the citation and an abstract appropriate at the high school science level:

Leary, Jennifer D., et al. “Preparation of pseudocapacitor electrodes via electrodeposition of polyaniline on nonwoven carbon fiber fabrics.” Journal of Applied Polymer Science (2015).

Abstract: Aniline has been polymerized via electrodeposition onto various nonwoven carbon fiber fabric (CFF) substrates for use as a pseudocapacitive electrochemical capacitor. Four types of CFF were initially tested for double layer capacitance before polyaniline deposition, and again for specific capacitance after deposition. A binder-free CFF was selected for further analysis due to its high capacitance change following PANI deposition (three orders of magnitude). The aniline monomer concentration, deposition potential, and deposition time were varied and resulting materials were characterized using chrono-potentiometry, cyclic voltammetry, and scanning electron microscopy. The deposition potential range yielding highest capacitance was found to be between 0.744 and 0.777 V. A solution concentration of 0.5M aniline at a 20 min deposition time resulted in the highest specific capacitance (>80 F/g based on total electrode mass and >300 F/g based on PANI mass) within this study.

What is your favorite thing about TECS / NC State?  The supportive community of staff, faculty and students.

Who has influenced you most during your research here and how?  Dr. Behnam Pourdeyhimi, my co-advisor, has taught me how to think big while still paying attention to the details of the process-property-performance relationship. He has a great depth of knowledge about how research and product development operates in industry, and has arranged many unique opportunities for our research group to interact with potential future employers. He also has the ability to take a sharp look at research results and ask questions that get us thinking about the underlying causes in a totally different way.

What do you find most exciting about your field of study?  At the same time that it has a millennia-old history, the textile industry is a place where inventions continue to unfold.