These questions are based on the Science News (SN) article about Joaquín Rodríguez-López: “Flowing toward a sustainable future.”
1. What personal characteristics helped make Rodríguez-López a successful scientist?
Possible student response: Other scientists said that Rodríguez-López has deep knowledge and is willing to share it, and that he is good at getting a team of people to work together toward a common goal.
2. What inspired Rodríguez-López to become a scientist?
Possible student response: When he was growing up in Mexico, Rodríguez-López spent hours at home reading Encyclopedia Britannica, and then helped other students at school. In college, he was inspired by learning that chemicals can react to produce energy.
3. What type of battery does Rodríguez-López work on, and how does it work?
Possible student response: Rodríguez-López works on flow batteries. These batteries have two tanks of liquid (one positively charged and one negatively charged) that are separated by a membrane. When the liquids meet, they exchange ions across the membrane and generate electric current.
4. What helped inspire Rodríguez-López’s research?
Possible student response: Lithium batteries power a wide range of devices, yet they can only provide a certain amount of energy before having to be recharged. Scaling up lithium batteries to store large amounts of energy from wind farms or solar panel arrays is expensive. Flow batteries are a better choice to store large amounts of renewable energy because their tanks can be easily scaled up relatively cheaply.
5. What was the objective of Rodríguez-López’s research that was reported in Journal of the American Chemical Society in 2014? What is the objective of the research he is currently conducting in his lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign?
Possible student response: In collaboration with his colleagues, Rodríguez-López created a new type of polymer that stores electrical energy in a flow battery. The polymer does this through a series of chemical reactions among molecules within the polymer. The polymers are bulky so they are less likely to leak across a flow battery’s membrane, increasing the battery’s energy storage and efficiency. In his lab at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Rodríguez-López continues to search for new materials and new techniques to improve battery performance, especially for storing energy produced from renewable resources like wind and solar.
6. Why is Rodríguez-López’s research important for the real world?
Possible student response: Battery storage is essential for making renewable energy affordable and reliable. If flow batteries’ storage capabilities could significantly improve, the batteries could more efficiently store electricity from wind farms and solar panels.
7. What STEM field(s) does this research belong to? What other types of research might scientists in these fields work on?
Possible student response: The research covers the fields of chemistry, electrical engineering and materials science. Together, these fields make up an intersectional field called electrochemistry. Electrochemists can work on batteries, fuel cells, electroplating, corrosion and corrosion resistance, and electrolysis, among other things.
8. Search the SN or Science News for Students archives to find and summarize another article about improving batteries.
Possible student response: The Science News for Students article, “Building a better battery,” published April 8, 2013, describes how researchers are developing batteries that can hold more charge and do not weaken with age. These batteries use sulfur, which is inexpensive and can store large amounts of energy. To overcome problems with sulfur making unwanted chemical byproducts or even exploding, the researchers surrounded the sulfur particles in the battery with a thin titanium dioxide coating.
These questions are based on the SN article about Paula Jofré: “Mapping stars across generations.”
1. What personal characteristics helped make Jofré a successful scientist?
Possible student response: Jofré combined methods from astronomy and biology in ways that no one had before. Other researchers say that she is very innovative, brave and confident, and that she sees things that other researchers do not see.
2. What inspired Jofré to become a scientist?
Possible student response: Jofré has been interested in astronomy since childhood. When a guidance counselor said that it was important for women to choose careers that would leave time for family instead of pursuing demanding careers in science fields, Jofré became even more determined to become an astronomer.
3. What was the inspiration that helped define Jofré’s research topic?
Possible student response: Jofré, who is an astrophysicist, met anthropologist Robert Foley at the University of Cambridge in England. They talked about how evolutionary trees can trace relationships between members of a species over time. She decided to apply that method to stars, since stars have a finite lifespan and pass on their matter, including traceable heavy elements such as carbon and iron, to new generations of stars.
4. What was Jofré’s objective of her research?
Possible student response: Jofré wanted to construct an evolutionary family tree of every star in the Milky Way, showing the relationships between stars and revealing more about stars’ lifecycles.
5. What methods did she use for her research?
Possible student response: Jofré measured the wavelengths of light emitted by different stars in order to figure out what chemical elements were in those stars, and in what proportions. By examining similarities and differences of the stars’ elemental compositions, she was able to construct a family tree for the stars.
6. What overall STEM field(s) does this research belong to? What other types of research might scientists in these fields work on?
Possible student response: The research covers astrophysics and topics in biology, such as evolution and family trees. Astrophysicists can pursue a wide range of careers, studying everything from the Big Bang to solar storms. Evolutionary family trees are usually constructed to identify relationships between different living and extinct species, or to trace relationships between members within the same species. Jofré’s research shows that evolutionary family trees can be applied to other scientific areas as well.
7. Search the SN or Science News for Students archives to find and summarize another article about tracing the relationships between stars.
Possible student response: The Science News article, “Chemical signature of first-generation star found,” published August 21, 2014, describes how a star located in the direction of the constellation Cetus, about 1,000 light-years from Earth, appears to contain matter inherited from one of the first stars in the universe. That first-generation star was more than 100 times as massive as the sun, and it produced a unique signature of elements including carbon, magnesium and iron.
8. How are Jofré and Rodríguez-López similar?
Possible student response: Both scientists have found new results by exploring the boundaries between different research fields and by combining different tools and techniques from those fields. The scientists are also similar in that they are self-motivated and driven by new challenges.