By Katie Nejati, Student Written Communications Assistant
Two years after joining UConn, MSE Assistant Professor Jasna Jankovic has received a National Science Foundation CAREER award. The award will provide funding over 5 years, allowing Jankovic to advance her research on clean energy technologies, as well as to develop educational programs designed to reach out to young audiences. “Earning the prestigious faculty early career development (CAREER) award gives me the means to realize what I envision as novel and transformative research, and helps me to inspire new generations to study and work in STEM fields and clean energy,” she says.
Jankovic’s research focuses on developing novel analytical techniques for characterizing degradation mechanisms in fuel cells, which she will also extend to electrolyzers and batteries. Specifically, her work investigates degradation occurring in tiny fuel cell membrane electrode assemblies that mimic industrial fuel cells. Identical location transmission electron microscopy (IL-TEM) allows for imaging the cells before and after exposure to conditions that stimulate operation in a working fuel cell. Although IL-TEM technique has been used previously, Jankovic will employ a novel, specially designed micro-testing setup used in conjunction with other advanced characterization techniques, such as 3D electron tomography and multi-scale operando imaging.
Apart from her development of advanced imaging techniques and her goal of realizing a clean, zero-emission, sustainable energy future, Jankovic’s other main interests center on revitalizing education to inspire students to reach their full potential. To expose young audiences to research in material science, clean energy, and microscopy, she will develop virtual reality (VR) modules, such as “I LoVR Clean Energy” and “I LoVR Nano”. She also plans to create a training module for undergraduate and graduate engineering students called “Engineering Entrepreneurs—Under the Microscope”, to better prepare them as future leaders in the innovation and commercialization of clean energy technologies. These activities fit well with an ongoing project known as “STEAM TREE”, which is already well underway. Together with UConn faculty collaborators, Professors Chris Sancomb (Art/Industrial Design), Stacy Maddern (Urban & Community Studies), Sung Yeul Park (Electrical & Computer Engineering), and Cynthia Jones (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology), Jankovic has received a UConn STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) Innovation grant to build a solar tree on campus. The tree will serve as a functioning, energy-producing tree, as well as a real-world laboratory, and a gathering place for the university community.
Jankovic’s career started at the University of British Columbia (UBC), where she completed her MS in chemical engineering and conducted research on oil heavy upgrading. Following an introduction to fuel cells by one of her respected colleagues, she fell in love with renewable energy technology, thereby refocusing her career aspirations on clean energy. Following her passion, Jankovic conducted research at the National Research Center – Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation (NRC-IFCI) and earned a PhD at UBC in 2011. UConn’s strong focus on initiatives in clean energy, its numerous industrial affiliates, and the availability of some of the world’s best microscopy capabilities, attracted Jankovic to UConn in 2018. Along with the extensive facilities, the supportive research environment at UConn greatly influenced her decision to join the faculty.
Although Jankovic’s research career is rapidly accelerating, one of the most enjoyable aspects of her job is working with students. Her group includes graduate students Amir Soleymani, R. Andres Godoy, Sara Pedram, Aubrey Tang, and Mariah Batool, all of whom are focusing on the characterization of materials in clean energy devices. Her teaching and advising style embodies a holistic approach that not only includes formal instruction in science, engineering and research, but also focuses on practice-oriented education in professional ethics, communication, team-work, and positive thinking.
Her advice for students pursuing engineering is to “be proactive – take that first step; ask for help and offer help to others; leave a great track record in whatever you are doing; keep expanding your network; and show appreciation to everyone who contributed to your success.”