Javier BarenoBy Joseph Bernstein • June 21, 2013
Javier Bareno is an assistant materials scientist in the Chemical Sciences and Engineering division. Bareno heads the Argonne Energy Surface Science Laboratory, which currently is focused on lithium-ion batteries.
What role do you play at the lab?
I’m in charge of the Argonne Energy Surface Science Laboratory. Right now, we are researching what chemical processes drive performance degradation and eventual failure in lithium-ion batteries. In a few years, if priorities change, we can work on whatever is needed, e.g., solar panels or fuel cells. The nice thing about our facility is that we keep a wide range of analytical techniques in close proximity so that we can get different points of view on the same sample and get the complete story. We keep the equipment in an airtight box so that we do not expose samples to air. This ensures that whatever chemical changes we observe during battery cycling correspond to real changes in the battery rather than artifacts from sample preparation.
What attracted you to work at Argonne?
It was a combination of personal and professional situations. During my PhD studies, I worked on the side with Daniel Abraham, an Argonne scientist. We were collaborating on a battery project. After completing my PhD, I moved to Sweden for a postdoctoral position at Linköping University. I kept in touch with Dr. Abraham, and we continued to work together. Eventually, my wife and I decided that it was time to move on from Sweden. She is an economist, and Linköping University is in a very small university town. Right around that time, Dr. Abraham called me with an offer to join his research group. I was excited because there are very few places in the world where you can do battery science at the level you can do it here.
What do you like most about your job?
Both the intellectual stimulation and the opportunity to learn something new every day. Learning is half of the paycheck. This is especially true in the battery field, which is inherently multidisciplinary. You cover the whole spectrum of approaches, from extremely applied engineering, figuring out how to make things that actually work, to fundamental science. I get to interact with a lot of different people.
How does your research impact our nation’s energy issues?
Our research has the potential for huge impact. We are trying to characterize materials and build up a knowledge library. Eventually, after a few years of looking at many different technologies, hidden physical relationships will start to show up, and we will be able to tell technologists, for example, “This is your problem; with these additives, we predict a an increased battery lifetime of . . .”
How can we help encourage children to get involved with science and engineering careers?
We need to share the excitement of science better. I spent five years of my life developing and studying mathematical models. I loved doing this, but I was one of the very few people that found it exciting. Mathematical models are very powerful, but we forget to mention that working with them is fun and exciting. I think that we should try to communicate that a lot more. The college professors I remember best are those who had that little gleam of excitement in their eyes when they were explaining things.
How did you become involved with science?
There were several influencing figures. One of them is the father of a girl who was my schoolmate. He was a professor of mathematics, and I liked math, and we talked about it. My mother is a nurse, and when I was in high school, I planned to go into medicine. I had the opportunity to witness a small surgery, and between that and all the rote memorization needed for a medical degree, I decided to pursue physics because it’s a lot cleaner conceptually. All you need to do is to understand what you are doing.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I think that as a community, scientists need to do a much better job of explaining to society what science is about. There is a cultural component to science. The fact that we are practicing scientists affects the way we see the world, and it’s not necessarily the same way that other people see it. I think that we need to put more effort into talking with non-scientists about what we do.