Interview with Dr Yige Sun, Post-doctoral researcher, University of Oxford

Spotlight on Oxford Operando Techniques Event

September saw a one-day symposium which focussed on the latest advances in the use of Operando Techniques to gain a deeper understanding of the growth, processing, functionality and performance of novel energy and device materials.

Organised by Prof Robert Weatherup, University of Oxford, Royce Research Area Lead for Electrochemical Systems, and Prof Stephan Hofmann, University of Cambridge, the event was aimed at building an interdisciplinary network of researchers working on operando and in-situ methods and related data analysis and computationally aided optimisation approaches.

Here we speak to Dr Yige Sun who attended the event, about her experience of the day and her plans for the future.

Yige is a Faraday Institution Research Fellow in the Nextrode project with Prof. Patrick Grant based at the University of Oxford, and a Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences (MPLS) Divisional Enterprise and Innovation Fellow.

Her research involves microstructural manipulation and analysis of lithium-ion battery electrode microstructure, working with multiple university and business partners. The plasma Focussed Ion Beam (FIB) is one of the Royce facilities which is important in her work, and she says that both she and the equipment have grown together since its inception. While Yige has grown her experience during the course of her research, the plasma FIB has, in parallel, increased its capability.

How did it feel to meet and talk again in person with researchers from across the country?

This was my first experience of attending a conference in person since lock-down! It was exciting to sit down, in a conference room, with like-minded people, and discuss our research. To be able to ask the speakers questions outside of a Zoom environment offered a real depth and breadth of conversation. The overall feeling was of a true shared experience.

The workshop included speakers joining from abroad and many online participants. What are your thoughts on the future of hybrid meetings?

From an audience perspective, the ability to join virtually is still a real benefit, and this should continue into the future. While it is still great to be here in person, being able to access events remotely will continue to be very helpful.

From a speaker perspective I felt that being in the room is still the most effective way to present technical issues, and to be able to connect with the audience. It also offered delegates the opportunity to speak in more detail about their work and have a deeper conversation.

Do you prefer a focus on applications, or techniques?

Both parts are important, but for me the balance should be around 70% applications and 30% techniques. Methodology and analysis are important, but a focus on applications means that new ideas can be generated, new ways of making things considered and the development of innovative applications and structures. The event brought this into sharp focus.

You were appointed as an enterprise and innovation Fellow (at Oxford) earlier this year. What has this meant to you?

The role involves working with the divisional Enterprise team and the department to help shape an enterprise development programme tailored for postgraduates, postdocs, early career academics and research staff. The role really helps me to keep my mind sharp! I’m not only focussed on analysing and answering a specific scientific question, but now I am in a positon to consider multiple angles. I am thinking about problem solving in a different way, and how to increase engagement in the department and across departments. As an example, with support from Lorraine Laird, from our departmental communications team, I am creating a new feature for our departmental newsletter; I am structuring a bank of enterprise training materials – from entry level understanding (fundamentals), through to more complex learning, and promoting this through the internal communications. I’m also seeking to progress funding opportunities both here in Oxford and outside the MPLS Division, as well as Enterprise events here and in partnership, and to share these with my colleagues.

Battery materials and modelling research groups are housed across four dedicated floors in the Rex Richards Building at the University of Oxford. The equipment and facilities offer the ability to synthesise, test and characterise air-sensitive materials for batteries.