“Every Leap in Human Civilization is Dependent on the Discovery of New Materials”

photo of Dr. Garvit Agarwal (MSE’19), Senior Scientist at Schrӧdinger, Inc.

Dr. Garvit Agarwal (MSE’19), Senior Scientist at Schrӧdinger, Inc.

By Alec Arbia, Written Communications Assistant
“Pursuing my PhD at UConn was one of the best decisions I have made in my life,” says Garvit Agarwal, MSE alumnus.
Agarwal initially earned his bachelor’s degree in metallurgical and materials engineering in 2011 at the Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee. “At that time, I had little knowledge about what materials science and engineering (mse) was all about, but over the years I realized that mse is truly a combination of many different disciplines, and I think that is the best part about it. You get to do everything, from physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering – even chemical engineering. It has all different disciplines combined into one, so it’s truly a multidisciplinary field. I think that inspires me to continue to do research in mse, because I don’t have to choose one particular discipline and stick to it. I get to do everything that I want to do.”
When Agarwal finished his undergraduate degree, he began looking at schools in the U.S. to pursue further education. “I decided to attend UConn specifically because I found that the MSE department had a really good mixture of faculty members working in various different areas of mse, which makes it an ideal place to pursue collaborative research. We have faculty members who are doing state of the art computational science, and we also have professors who are using advanced experimental techniques to unravel the science behind how materials behave. That’s a very healthy mix of computational and experimental scientists in the department.”
Most of Agarwal’s inspiration during his time at UConn came from his advisor, Professor Avinash Dongare. “I don’t think I have words to thank him enough for what he has done for me. He has made me what I am today as a scientist.”
Agarwal went on to reveal that when he first arrived at UConn, he had never done computational materials science before. “I had no prior experience in that area, and Professor Dongare was very patient while teaching me all the different kinds of computational techniques that he uses in his research group to study materials. The group was small when I joined, so he was very focused on each and every student – he would personally sit down and teach me things that were necessary for me to pursue my PhD.”
Professor Dongare was also deeply motivating. “He wouldn’t shy away from sitting down with you, looking at the raw data that you have generated during your computational study, and discussing various hypotheses based on the data. He would want to make sure that you are doing the science in the right way, so he would guide you in how to think about a particular problem. I believe this is a very essential part of the PhD training. You are being trained as a scientist to better comprehend the data at hand and explore new hypotheses. He was very good at that.”
Agarwal also made it a point to mention how much he was motivated by Professor Rampi Ramprasad, who has since become a professor at Georgia Tech. “I must mention him because I was also truly inspired by him. His passion for science is contagious. Every time I would talk to him, I would feel motivated to do more science and to learn new things. He is a truly inspiring person.”
Agarwal went on to discuss what he did immediately post-UConn. “After I graduated, I went on to pursue a post-doctorate at Argonne National Laboratory for two years. At Argonne I was working as a part of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), which is one of the DOE’s Energy Innovation Hubs.”
It was there that Agarwal started doing battery research and battery materials modeling. “Specifically, I was doing machine learning for the discovery of new battery materials as well as looking at complex interfaces between electrodes and electrolytes in the batteries and modeling them using Density Functional Theory (DFT) calculations. That was a new and enriching experience for me. I learned a lot of new skills and collaborated extensively with experimental groups which allowed me to grow further as a researcher.”
Agarwal explained that his role at Argonne as a postdoctoral scientist was a catalyst to his current position at Schrӧdinger, Inc. “My current role is Battery Materials Simulation Scientist – so what I’m doing at Schrӧdinger is sort of an extension of what I did at Argonne. Now, at Schrӧdinger, I’m developing novel computational methods and tools that allow scientists to accelerate the design and discovery of novel battery materials.”
This work has a real-life, world-wide impact. “We have customers not only in the U.S., but all around the world. All these industries are designing batteries that are used in cars, electronic devices, and everywhere else. They use our tools to model the materials at the fundamental level. These models allow us to understand how material properties affect the device performance, and that shows you how your contributions can impact real life technologies in a positive manner.”
While Agarwal’s first favorite part of his job is advancing the materials modeling technology, his second favorite part is interacting with the customers who are using it. “As an application scientist I need to explain the application of our tools and technologies to the customers. I get to demonstrate how our tools can make an impact for various applications.”
When asked what advice he’d give to current and future students, Agarwal said to “always be curious. Ask questions – never be afraid of asking questions about anything. Those are the most important things that everyone should do, not only those who are considering material science and engineering as a major.”
However, if he had to speak some words of wisdom to prospective materials science and engineering students specifically, they would be as follows: “Over the years what I’ve realized is that mse is a multidisciplinary field. If you are looking for a discipline where you enjoy doing bits of everything, mse is the discipline for you. It’s a true blend of various basic science domains and engineering disciplines. If you are confused about choosing a discipline – for example, between chemistry and physics – My advice would be to go for materials science and engineering. With mse, you don’t have to choose one particular discipline. You get to enjoy the best part of each one.”
Agarwal went on to say that the other rewarding part about mse is that you get to better understand the nature of the world we are surrounded by. “There are materials all around us, so once you start understanding how particular materials behave, you get to understand the world around you better. Once you start, I’m sure you will never want to leave this field, because there are so many interesting things around us, and we always need materials to make progress and solve societal challenges.”
Agarwal used a fitting example of the invention of the Li ion battery in the 90s. “We never had such a technology before, and we needed mse to make that technology successful. Every leap in human civilization is dependent on the discovery of new materials.”

Published: April 5, 2023

Categories: alumni, batteries, computation, energy innovation, news

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