I have known Dr. Marcus Worsley for nearly two years since our collaboration in supercapacitors. As a staff scientist in the Lawerence Livermore National Lab, Marcus is doing many cool things associated with aerogels (something that contains a lot of nothing - Debra Rolison) including making tiny diamond aerogels from carbon aerogels. After his talk, we scheduled a short chat about his research. What is the motivation for choosing aerogel research as his career? Before answering this question, Marcus showed me a picture depicting an aerogel disk that blocks the flame from even singeing the delicate flower petals above it. "It is the extraordinary properties like that that intrigued me about the aerogels," said Marcus. Aerogels represent a diverse family of materials that have great potential to make our lives better. They can be applied as thermo-insulating materials to reduce heat loss and save heating energy, as electrode materials for renewable energy storage, and as desalination devices for drinking water acquisition. What is the biggest challenge of 3D printing aerogels? According to his view, at this stage the biggest obstacle is to obtain a large variety of the feedstock materials that are compatible for different types of 3D printing techniques but while still retaining the intrinsic aerogel properties in the final part. For example, only a limited number of qualified inks that conform to the technical requirements of the extrusion-based 3D writing technique were developed. His research team is working to create a wider variety of possible inks. What is the most significance for 3D printing aerogels? 3D printing allows direct engineering of macropores into aerogels. By creating these large pores, the permeation properties of aerogels can be greatly enhanced which opens up new opportunities for applications that rely heavily on mass transport, e.g., water desalination. What is the major difference between a national laboratories and a laboratory in academia? In a national laboratory, you are encouraged to build a team that involves experts with different backgrounds from multiple departments (e.g., physics, chemistry, engineering, materials science, computer modeling, etc.). All these scientists work together to find multifaceted solutions to problems because that is what is typically required for the sorts of projects that national laboratories tackle. Researchers are exposed to an inter-disciplinary working environment to pursue their goals. Such a wide-ranging, across-field collaboration is generally challenging for a laboratory in a university.
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