Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Program

The CESI Post-doctoral Fellowships are high-profile fellowships designed to attract the best and brightest young researchers in energy science, engineering, and materials to Cornell.  The goal  is  to  create  a  cohort  of  independent  scholars pursuing  frontier  research  in energy. Fellows will work in partnership with Cornell faculty sponsors on projects consistent with the CESI mission. The CESI fellowships are two-year appointments and provide up to 50% of the cost associated with sponsoring a postdoctoral scientist at Cornell, with the faculty advisors providing the other 50%. 

David Specht (2022)

David Andrew Specht (2022)


David received his PhD in Applied Physics in 2021. As an undergraduate, he majored in physics and minored in environmental science and policy, with the intent of pursuing a research career developing technologies that would reduce our footprint on the environment. His interest in the intersections between physics and biology led to his subsequent PhD work, here at Cornell with the Lambert Lab, where he studied the physics of CRISPR, a biological system that enables human-programmable interaction with DNA. He used next generation sequencing to study the sequence-specific determinants of binding of the CRISPR protein Cas12a, and how the binding of these proteins can be used to control gene expression via synthetic gene circuits. Through his PhD research, he came to appreciate how powerful synthetic biology - our new ability to engineer organisms at a high level - can be.

While it is clear that the best way to alleviate climate change in the short term is to reduce and eliminate emissions, it is perhaps even clearer that due to a lack of political will and anemic energy transitions there will be a need in the future to be able to sequester carbon from the air or oceans at a massive, gigaton-level scale. David's objective is to engineer electroactive microbes studied by the Barstow lab in order to be able to biomineralize atmospheric carbon using genetic pathways derived from a carbonate-depositing microbe. This would support a process which can doubly draw down carbon from the atmosphere using biomineralization (a carbon negative process) using microbes fed on formate derived from carbon dioxide (a carbon net-zero process) and calcium, iron, or magnesium ions from industrial or mining byproducts or natural sources, such as geological reservoirs or seawater.

Joesene Soto (2022)

Joesene J. Soto Perez (2022)


Joesene J. Soto Perez is a final year Ph.D. candidate (Analytical Chemistry) in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras campus. He is currently a visiting scientist in the Surface Electrochemistry and Electrocatalysis group from the Chemistry Department of Brookhaven National Laboratory. Joesene has focused his graduate work on understanding the chemistry of emerging nanomaterials as low loading Platinum group metals (PGM) combined with first-row transition metals for energy conversion reactions. He highlights the use of in situ and operando XAS experiments combined with electrochemistry to study these materials in alkaline and acidic mediums.

As a CESI postdoctoral fellow, Joesene Soto will be working with non-precious metal electrocatalysts for energy conversion reactions (ORR, OER, HER and HOR). His research project is entitled, Identifying activity-stability relationships in non-precious-metal fuel cell catalysts. He will specifically focus on 3D perovskites oxides and metal carbides/nitrides. In situ and operando electrochemical XAS experiments will provide valuable information regarding the electrocatalysts' leaching behavior, eventually translating into performance and durability insights under real conditions.

Research PhotoScheme 1

Laura DaltonLaura Dalton (2022)

CO-Advised by Greeshma Gadikota and Sriramya Nair, CEE

Laura E. Dalton received her master’s degree in Civil Engineering from West Virginia University in 2016 and is a PhD Candidate at North Carolina State University (NCSU) set to graduate this May 2022. In addition to her doctoral studies, Laura also serves as a part-time research scientist with the Leidos Research Support Team (LRST) working as a telecommuting contractor to the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in Morgantown, WV. She began her career at NETL as a Mickey Leland Energy Fellow in the summer of 2014 during her undergraduate studies in civil engineering where she developed a passion for utilizing three-dimensional imaging techniques to solve engineering challenges. Laura has four years of experience utilizing X-ray computed tomography (CT) to non-destructively characterize mass transport in cement-based and geological materials at high temperature and high pressure conditions. Laura’s current doctoral research has extended to utilizing multiple imaging techniques including simultaneous X-ray and neutron tomography and most recently electrical tomography to better understand how CO2 moves through variably saturated cement-based materials and how carbonate formation influences subsequent transport. She recently returned to the United States from completing a nine-month Fulbright Fellowship at the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio, Finland, where she learned about electrical tomographic methods and conducted research in support of her doctoral studies.

Defossilization and decarbonation of the construction industry is a crucial societal need since this industry accounts for about 39% of CO2 emissions. A large portion of these emissions result from the production of building materials which alone account for 11% of global emissions. Primary contributors to these CO2 emissions are the calcination of calcium carbonate to produce the precursors needed for construction and high temperatures exceeding 1400°C to drive the synthesis of cementitious materials. Thus, there is a crucial need to produce calcium silicate precursors using electrochemical approaches and to harness CO2 for curing as an alternative to water. In this project, we will translate this technology into practice by probing the mechanisms underlying CO2 curing which yield high strength materials. Specifically, the non-monotonic effects of CO2 hydration on the strength of construction materials bearing electrochemically produced calcium silicate precursors will be investigated. This project could shift the consumption of cement-based materials used by the construction industry and help close the carbon cycle from initial cement production.

Regina Garcia-MendezRegina Garcia-Mendez (2020)

co-advised by Dr. Andrej Singer and Dr. Lynden Archer

Regina Garcia-Mendez completed her Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan in 2020, under the supervision of Professor Jeff Sakamoto. Her graduate work focused on correlating structural and interfacial effects of ceramic solid electrolytes with cycling stability of Li metal in solid-state batteries. Even though most recent investigations have been carried out focusing on the lithium anode-electrolyte interface, including her thesis, the practical stability of solid electrolytes at high voltages still needs further investigation. In particular, the (electro-) chemical evolution of electrode materials and interfaces that can often be linked to mechanical degradation due to the all-solid nature of these systems.

As a CESI Post-Doctoral Fellow, Garcia-Mendez’ research will pursue forming anionic polymer coatings in-situ throughout the cathode to prevent exposing the solid electrolyte to oxidation and attain intimate contact between components. Furthermore, the compliant nature of the polymer may accommodate volume changes during cycling allowing capacity retention. Regina’s research project is entitled, In-situ generated cathode electrode interfaces for high voltage stabilization of a ceramic electrolyte. Advanced characterization techniques such as in-situ soft and hard X-ray scattering and imaging techniques coupled with Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy (EIS) measurements will be used to understand the formation process and evolution of the interfaces. In addition, mobility and structural changes under dynamic conditions will be studied.

ceramic soil electrolyte
Schematic of anionic polymer coatings onto cathode particles for solid electrolyte oxidative-stability enhancement

Cheol KangCheol Kang (2020)

co-advised by Dr. Geoffrey Coates and Dr. Héctor D. Abruña

Cheol Kang is a final-year Ph.D. candidate (supervised by Prof. Tae-Lim Choi) in the Department of Chemistry at Seoul National University. He completed his Bachelor’s Degree in the same department and started his Ph.D. course in 2014. During the course, Cheol focused on developing synthetic methodologies for making conjugated polyenes and polyenynes from multi-yne monomers by using Ru-based olefin metathesis catalysts. By combining olefin metathesis and metallotropic 1,3-shift reactions (cascade M&M polymerization), he enabled the controlled synthesis of conjugated polyenynes via chain-growth mechanism. After completing his Ph.D., he will join the Coates group in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Cornell. 

As a postdoctoral researcher, Cheol aims to develop new organic cathode materials by combining redox-active side chains with conductive polymer backbone. To date, most conventional batteries include inorganic materials that are rare, expensive, and energy-consuming for recycling. In contrast, organic materials enable access to greener energy storage systems because they are based on naturally abundant elements which are easier to recycle. Cheol proposes making new polymeric cathode materials consisting of conductive backbone and redox-active side chains via living cyclopolymerization of 1,6-heptadiyne derivatives. Owing to the innate conductivity of polyacetylene backbone, this new material will not require the use of carbon additives, which were generally added to conventional organic cathodes for better electronic conductivity. Furthermore, he suggests making network polymers by using cross-linking agents (covalently linked two diyne units) to improve structural stability, thereby enhancing the charge/discharge cycling stability. Due to the living character of this polymerization system, even block copolymerization with monomers having hydrophilic groups will be possible, which will improve the ionic conductivity of the cathode material. This multi-functional material will offer a better chance for sustainable, versatile, and potentially low-cost energy storage devices. 

preparation of new organic cathode material

Shuangyan LangShuangyan Lang (2019)

co-advised by Dr. Héctor D. Abruña, Dr. Lynden Archer and Dr. Jin Suntivich

Shuangyan Lang is a final-year doctoral candidate (supervised by Profs. Li-Jun Wan and Rui Wen) in Physical Chemistry at the Institute of Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences (ICCAS) in Beijing, China. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in 2014 in the department of Chemistry, Jilin University. Her Ph.D research has focused on the in-situ investigation of interfacial processes and kinetics of Li-S batteries via EC-AFM (electrochemistry-atomic force microscopy). The research project that she will be working on is entitled, In Operando Fundamental Studies of Li/S Cells as Next-Generation Electrical Energy Storage Technologies. 

Her research will focus on the operando observation and characterization of the interfacial processes and an in-depth investigation of the reaction mechanism of Li-S batteries. Through the use of advanced operando techniques (Scheme 1) such as X-ray based methods, in-situ TEM and cryo-STEM, she intends to achieve the direct visualization of the morphological and structural evolution at both CEI (cathode electrolyte interface) and SEI (solid electrolyte interface), providing a detailed mechanistic understanding/picture of the delicate interplay of interfacial processes in Li-S batteries and insightful clues for novel design criteria for advanced, next-generation electrical energy storage technologies.

schematic of the in-situ operando

Alexa SchmitzAlexa Schmitz (2019)

co-advised by Dr. Buz Barstow and Dr. Esteban Gazel

Alexa Schmitz is currently a postdoc in the Barstow Lab in Biological and Environmental Engineering at Cornell. Originally from southeastern PA, Alexa completed her bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry and violin performance at Oberlin College and Conservatory in Oberlin, OH. She then interned at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama studying competitive interactions between microbial tree-root endosymbionts on an island in the middle of the Panama Canal. With a desire to gain competence in microbiology and molecular biology, Alexa joined the lab of Dr. Cammie Lesser at Harvard Medical School where she developed a microscopic assay for visualizing protein-protein interactions in yeast, which she used to investigate how Shigella flexneri, a causal agent of dysentery, secretes type III effector proteins. Alexa first came to Cornell University for her PhD in Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology, which she completed in the lab of Dr. Maria Harrison at Boyce Thompson Institute studying molecular mechanisms underlying the interaction between beneficial arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and plant roots. Now in the Barstow Lab, she is excited to biologically engineer solutions to problems in sustainable energy using microorganisms. When not in the lab, Alexa continues to pursue her passion for music as a violinist with Ithaca’s Cayuga Chamber Orchestra.    

As a CESI postdoctoral fellow, Alexa Schmitz will be working towards the development of an efficient, sustainable, environmentally responsible, and commercially viable system for extraction of rare earth elements (REE). The global demand for these critical metals is rising rapidly due to their use in many important technologies, especially renewable energy systems.Typically, extraction of REE requires harsh chemicals and high temperature and pressure. A promising alternative is to use the bacterium, Gluconobacter oxydans to bioleach REE from end-of-life waste via its production of strong, but biodegradable, organic acids. Furthermore, the costly sugars used by the bacteria to produce the acid can be obtained by enzymatically breaking down agricultural waste, like corn stover, using the fungus, Trichoderma reesei. Although such a combined biological system can work in the lab, scaling up for commercial application will require much improvement of both microorganisms. With her co-advisors, Buz Barstow and Esteban Gazel, and in collaboration with researchers at the Idaho National Lab, Alexa will comprehensively identify genes underlying REE bioleaching and corn stover digestion by G. oxydans and T. reesei, respectively, and then target those genes for improvement through bioengineering. A bioleaching system combining both improved G. oxydans and improved T. reesei could provide a game-changing solution for environmentally responsible and sustainable REE recovery from end-of-life waste.

Global Rare Earth Element Chart