Savannah Cofer and Ajay Subramanian had the unique experience of writing their first published paper — as Rice University undergraduates.
Cofer, a rising junior in mechanical engineering, and Subramanian, a 2018 materials science and nanoengineering graduate, both worked in the chemistry lab of James Tour. Along with their collaborators, the students developed a simple way to produce conductive, three-dimensional objects made of graphene foam. Advanced Materials published their paper on the work in June. Read the paper here.
Applications of the research include energy; Subramanian, who was co-lead author along with his mentor, graduate student Duy Xuan Long, says the foam is a promising material for batteries or flexible customization of electronic devices.
“We hope that by developing this method, other groups and scientists can more easily explore these and other applications,” he said.
Subramanian began work in the Tour lab as a sophomore and said the road to publication was long.
“My first series of projects were all regarding laser-induced graphene (LIG), the building block material of our graphene foams,” he said. “After a year or so of working with LIG, Duy and I sort of accidentally came across the layer-by-layer building method that became the basis of this paper.”
The novel method is based on laminated object manufacturing, in which layers of a material are assembled and then cut to shape. The Rice lab stacked up to five layers of foam and then used a custom-built fiber lasing system on a modified 3D printer, built by Cofer, to mill the block into complex shapes.
Cofer had worked in the Tour lab through Rice’s Century Scholars Program since her freshman year and developed the automation described in the paper. She ended up building the device that would additively manufacture the graphene foam objects, one of two 3D printers she created for the lab.
“Working in the chemistry department as a mechanical engineering major, I got to explore the intersection between these two disciplines,” she said. “I saw how mechanical automation can have an impact on microstructures.” Watch a video on this research shot by Savannah.
Subramanian agreed. “Being part of such a huge group with diverse projects was an awesome learning experience, which I think really helped me develop as a scientist,” he said. “It was definitely a team effort from the get-go, with a lot of planning and communication between myself and Duy.”
Subramanian will continue his academic career and pursue a Ph.D. at Stanford this fall; Cofer is currently an intern with the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and will begin work in Marcia O’Malley’s robotics laboratory via the Rice Undergraduate Scholars Program when she returns to campus in August.