“Green Electronics” of the Future Faculty Spotlight, December 2019
“Physics is not something hidden among difficult mathematical formulations only to be handed down by professors. It is something that anyone with passion can access and learn and my responsibility as a professor is to ensure that the students get proper coaching and guidance during the process.”
Assistant Professor of Physics, Dr. Ramesh Adhikari is interested in helping students appreciate physics by engaging them with research-based active learning pedagogies. Dr. Adhikari believes that physics is learned better through immersion, by having students go through the process of questioning and by helping them develop rational thought processes. Likewise, he often has students research with him outside the classroom in order to ensure that they have these experiences. They design and carry out experiments to answer questions at the cutting-edge of materials science, which is an interdisciplinary field that draws knowledge from physics, chemistry, and engineering.
Currently, there are three projects being carried out in his lab with the help of his students and colleagues. The first project is on plant-based electronics in which they are working towards developing electronics devices built within plant parts such as stem and leaves. The second project is on self-assembly of aromatic amino acid based structures. Aromatic amino acids are subset of amino acids which are building blocks of proteins. The goal of this project is to understand how these molecules assemble on their own in a solution, and to develop biocompatible electronic devices. The third project is on developing low-cost triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs). They use paper and other low cost materials to develop devices that convert mechanical energy of motion into electrical energy. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of these projects, Dr. Adhikari has had students majoring in physics, chemistry, and engineering work on these projects, one recently leading to a peer-reviewed publication in the fall of 2019, Electrical Characterization of Leaf-based Wires & Supercapacitors.
With the increasing production and decreasing lifetime of consumer electronics, the amount of electronic waste produced globally continues to increase as well. Dr. Adhikari and colleagues are looking for ways to address the issue by developing alternative methods of constructing electronics. Specifically, they are investigating whether parts of plants, such as leaves, can be used to construct biodegradable electronics. They first convert the veins in the leaves that are designed to transport water and minerals into conducting wires, and then take advantage of the architecture of the veins in the leaves to construct electronic components as necessary. So far, they have constructed wires and supercapacitors within leaves in this manner and published the report on RSC Advances. Supercapacitors are components that can store a large amount of charges and could potentially serve as a cleaner alternative to rechargeable batteries. They are working to construct other components such as transistors and sensors while improving the performance of the supercapacitors as the next step in the project.
The project also provided an opportunity to collaborate with colleagues Dr. Huihui Wang (Engineering) and Dr. Joseph Cradlebaugh (Chemistry). In addition to his colleagues, the undergraduate researchers Kenneth Huffman, Jack Terrell, and James Targos were co-authors of the paper. It is not very common for undergraduate students to produce a scholarly paper, and Dr. Adhikari is pleased that he and his colleagues have been able to create an environment for their students to flourish. Dr. Adhikari and his colleagues were able to secure internal grants from CollaborateJU through the EPIC program led by the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (ORSP). Additional funding came through a grant that Dr. Adhikari was able to secure from the Eppley Foundation for Research to purchase equipment and support students.