20 Jan 2023 |
Research article |
Sustainable Development, the Circular Economy and Environmental Issues , Innovative Materials and Advanced Manufacturing
Tackling Environmental Issues and Promoting EDI
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Dr. Gaixia Zhang, a professor in the Electrical Engineering Department, brings to ÉTS multidisciplinary hands-on experience. She wants to share her knowledge in novel nanomaterials synthesis and design, surface/interface engineering, in-situ characterization techniques, and theoretical modeling for renewable energy conversion and storage devices. As a woman and a member of a visible minority, she strives to create an inclusive environment in the research groups in which she participates.
About ten years ago, Dr. Gaixia Zhang made a discovery followed by “Wow, amazing!”
She developed a green chemistry strategy for nanofabrication of materials with different structures, applying it to cobalt, nickel, platinum and other metals. “Eventually, I realised that I can also make nanofibers, nanoribbons, nanoflowers, and even patterns!”, Gaixia recounts with excitement.
At the time, Zhang had just finished her Ph.D. studies and became a post-doctoral fellow. Most of her accomplishments were yet to come.
When Teaching Runs in the Family
In September 2022, Gaixia Zhang joined ÉTS as a professor and a Marcelle-Gauvreau Engineering Research Chair of the Electrical Engineering Department. A perfect fit given her background.
Teaching seems to be coded in her genes: Gaixia’s father, sister, aunts and cousins are all teachers. From an early age, she was passionate about math, physics, chemistry and their applications. She earned her Master’s degree in Optical Engineering and Environment at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, followed by a Ph.D. in Engineering Physics from the Polytechnique Montréal.
While obtaining her degrees, Zhang also gave courses on fundamentals of physics, nanomaterials and nanotechnology, sustainable energy conversion and storage systems, and material characterisation techniques, among other topics.
“I want to continue inspiring and encouraging my students to acquire new knowledge, to face challenges, and advance in their studies and scientific endeavors,” she says.
Professor Zhang believes that educating the youth and conducting research are equally important. “I always wanted to transfer my knowledge and apply it to practice as my contribution to society,” shares Gaixia. “Being an industry-oriented institution with cutting-edge facilities, ÉTS offers broad opportunities to fulfill my dream.”
Dr. Gaixia Zhang brings to ÉTS multidisciplinary hands-on experience and extensive knowledge in novel nanomaterials synthesis and design, surface/interface engineering, in-situ characterization techniques, and theoretical modeling for renewable energy conversion and storage devices.
In the course of her career, Dr. Zhang has published over 120 peer-reviewed articles and ten book chapters, and has been honoured with various fellowships and awards. Her international academic and industrial R&D experience includes General Motors (US), Western University and INRS (Canada), Université Clermont Auvergne (France), etc. She has also built an extensive collaboration with Canadian Light Source (CLS).
Using experimental results, in-situ energy device monitoring, and computational modeling, Dr. Zhang aims to move her research at ÉTS further to sustainable energy practice.
Reducing the Carbon Footprint
Gaixia is very concerned with greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Her efforts to tackle this issue are in keeping with the ÉTS determination to play an active role in the fight against climate change.
At ÉTS, Dr. Zhang’s multidisciplinary research activities cover advanced nanomaterials design and energy device engineering for applications in renewable energy conversion and storage technologies.
As Gaixia explains, renewable energy (e.g., solar, wind, hydro) can reduce the carbon footprint in many ways. However, the demand for sustainable energy keeps increasing, and the availability of its sources is intermittent. One of the solutions is to intelligently manipulate these sources by using energy conversion and storage systems.
That is why Dr. Zhang focuses her research on batteries, fuel cells, and electrolysers.
Bringing Research Closer to Practice
How to reduce the risk of lithium-ion batteries catching fire? How to develop next-generation safer and higher-energy batteries for electric vehicles? How to manufacture flexible batteries for portable electronic devices? How to save or replace costly noble metals in fuel cells and electrolysers? How to create regenerative fuel cell systems for aerospace applications? These are some of the questions Gaixia Zhang has been working on.
Currently, she holds four US patents.
One of Zhang’s 2022 patents is about the electrolyte additive strategy for the protection of both anode and cathode toward a high-energy, safe, and long-lifetime lithium battery.
Another recent patent is about electrolysers that serve to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, keeping the energy in the chemicals. Such devices typically require expensive noble metal-based catalysts to keep their high efficiency. “The reaction in catalysts happens usually on the particle surface. My colleagues and I developed a method that brings the particles down to single atoms,” expounds Zhang. The benefits are obvious: saving on noble metals and reducing the cost of catalysts.
As a woman, a mother of two and a member of a visible minority, Gaixia Zhang is committed to promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). “I’m honored to be part of the ÉTS team. And hope to make a difference for its ‘Objectif Féminin pluriel’ initiative,” she says.
Dr. Zhang works on establishing diverse research groups and developing an inclusive environment aimed at increasing the number of women engineers. She also offers customized training plans depending on students’ needs, especially the underrepresented individuals. Professor Zhang’s goal is to build an environment of balance, respect and support. She invites students to talk to her about their challenges in studies, research or personal life. “I will do my best to help them,” she assures.
In addition to being hard-working, Gaixia Zhang constantly challenges herself to acquire knowledge in new fields. “Passion, determination and resilience are always the sources for moving forward.”