Epstein Named One of UMD's Undergraduate Researchers of the Year

Clark School Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) senior Eric Epstein has been named an Undergraduate Researcher of the Year by the Maryland Center for Undergraduate Research for his accomplishments in the field of lithium-ion battery research. He was selected from a highly competitive group of nominees working in diverse fields throughout the university. Epstein received his award and was introduced by his advisor, MSE Assistant Professor John Cumings, at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Undergraduate Research Day, held on April 25.

Epstein works in Cumings's research group, where he collaborates with MSE graduate student Khim Karki on an investigation into the electrochemical properties of silicon nanowires as they undergo charge and discharge in lithium ion battery cells.

Silicon anodes have great potential for use in lithium ion batteries because they have ten times the capacity of typical carbon anodes, but they tend to break down during use. Using an in situ transmission electron microscopy technique, Epstein and Karki have been able to observe, analyze and document the behavior of silicon nanowires in realtime. They are also exploring the nanowires' potential to self-heal.

"There are some serious issues with silicon that prevent it from being successfully employed in commercial battery cells," Epstein explains. "One problem is it is brittle, so it tends to fracture when lithium is inserted and extracted....To mitigate this issue, people have engineered electrodes using nanostructured silicon [nanowires]; however, even [that] fails in batteries. People don't yet fully understand the failure mechanisms of nano-silicon in battery cells. This is where we come in."

Epstein is also the recipient of a 2012 Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation and a 2010-2011 L-3 Undergraduate Scholarship. He is also the recipient of MSE's 2012 Engineering Student Research Award.

A self-described "avid member" of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), Epstein was part of a team that designed a water pump, storage, and filtration system for a medical center in Burkina Faso, Africa. During winter break in 2010, he collaborated with several students from the University of Maryland EWB chapter to build a bioretention facility near a large campus parking lot, which currently filters water runoff from over 2.5 acres of impervious land coverage on campus.

Published April 26, 2012