A Focus on our PhD Students – Maggie Fox

My first real exposure to science was at the end of high school in a chemistry class. Getting to do hands on laboratory experiments was of great interest to me, and it led me to want to go into a STEM field for college. I chose to go to the State University of New York at Binghamton University to pursue a degree in Chemistry. Once beginning classes, I got involved in a Freshman Research Immersion Program that was breaking ground, and got the opportunity to rotate in a few different labs to see the work that they were doing. This was my first interac-tion with the field of materials science. During the rotations, I met Professor Wayne Jones, who later became my main undergraduate research advisor. I worked in his laboratory for the entirety of my undergraduate career, focusing primarily on utilizing conductive polymers in electrochemical energy storage systems, more specifically supercapacitors. This work eventually became the focus of my undergraduate thesis work. Originally, I planned to end my research career when I completed my Bachelor degree. How-ever, in the summer of 2017, I was able to participate in an international research experience that sent me to Grenoble, France to work in a re-search laboratory. Getting to work closely with graduate students and run my own project that summer motivated me to pursue a graduate lev-el degree.

After completing my undergraduate degree in 2018, I began my PhD at UCLA in the Materials Science and Engineering Department under Professor Bruce Dunn. My research has predominantly focused on utilizing the sol-gel process to tailor materials for a variety of applications. I was fortunate enough to share some of my graduate work on engineering mesoporous silica to be used as an optically transparent and thermally insulating material for window applications via an ambient drying process at the 2022 International Sol Gel Conference in Lyon. This project explored tailoring of the microstructure of silica gel dried under ambient conditions to mimic the optical properties of a glass window, and the thermal insulating properties of a silica aerogel. An especially worthwhile aspect of the process was learning how to optimize the process at a larger scale without sacrificing any of the observed material properties.

The ambiently-dried-silica project gave me a deeper understanding of sol-gel technology and has served as a founda-tion for my PhD work. My research has since shifted from the ambiently dried silica to focusing on using the sol gel process to optimize materials for use in electrochemical energy storage applica-tions such as Lithium Ion Batteries. Most recently, I’ve been looking at using silica-based gels for pseudo-solid electrolytes and transition metal oxides to serve as catholytes in 3D and solid state batteries. I’m excited to continue this work as I complete my graduate degree.

I am also passionate about improving equity for women in STEM and organized the first “Women in STEM: Breaking Barriers” summit at UCLA. This three-day summit, which addressed many of the systemic barriers faced by women in STEM, included presentations from speakers such as UCLA’s Professor Andrea Ghez, who won the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics.

I plan to continue my work in the field of electrochemical energy storage and hope to use my background in syn-thesize materials to optimize devices and their processing.