Monday, June 19

Hi, I’m Matt, I will be providing updates throughout the 2 weeks of JUAMI 2023! The first day was packed with introductions from our partner institutions, active learning about energy materials concepts and life cycle analysis, and the best part by far, meeting new people. The afternoon poster session allowed students to present their research and discuss potential future projects – I left with several new contacts and promising ideas for collaborations. Unfortunately, our evening speaker had to cancel their biodiversity talk due to illness, but the dinner from the hotel was fabulous. After a long day (I arrived at the hotel at 2AM), I was ready to sleep and try to allow my circadian rhythm to adjust to being halfway across the world. Now, if only my luggage would finally arrive…

Wednesday, June 21

Hello again! The past 2 days, we have been learning all about Life Cycle Assessment, powerful tool to analyze and compare the total environmental impact of goods. Through lecture, tutorial, and a lab session, we got our feet wet calculating the total fuel consumed to generate electricity of several nations and investigated how battery chemistry impacts an electric vehicle’s environmental sustainability. In this afternoon’s lab session, we used what we learned in the Nanomaterials lecture to grow variously-sized nanoparticles and investigate their ability to act as chemical sensors. In addition to classes and labs, we were given guidance on how to effectively collaborate and are applying these learnings as we begin to form groups to develop our project proposals. I look forward to working with my colleagues on our proposals!


Thursday, June 22

Wow, what a day. We started with excellent talks from Profs. Leite and Augustyn where they discussed their theory- and experiment-based approaches to understanding battery stability and operation. In our lab exercise, we synthesized coin batteries and used colored LED lights to test their voltage, applying concepts we learned during Prof. Amanchukwu’s tutorial. The highlight of the day was our first of two banquets, held at Safari Park Hotel. Various meats were sliced from swords onto the sizzling plates of our non-vegetarian diners. The beautiful and acrobatic stage performance was topped only by our marginally less acrobatic dance moves.

Friday, June 23

If another stellar breakfast from our hotel wasn’t enough to re-energize anyone still tired from last night’s festivities, Profs. Meng and Mekonnen livened up the room with their morning talks. I had fun with my lab team using a variable resistor to measure the I-V curves of two types of solar cells, even though the pesky clouds hindered us from reaching maximum power (and reminded us of the importance of energy storage). I was also very excited to finally hear other students’ project proposals. Given the intelligence and determination of my fellow students, I am positive that many will reach successful conclusions. The week of programming was capped off by solar cell talks from Prof. Bertoni and Dr. Berry, neither of which passed up on opportunities to cast friendly shade (yes, pun intended) on each other’s rival photovoltaic systems. We enjoyed dinner out on the town, and I heard some of our students may have even discovered some of Nairobi’s underground electronic music scene 👀…

Saturday, June 24

Building on their “attack from above” strategy during our solar panel lab yesterday, the clouds decided to kick things up a notch and fully envelop us on our Saturday morning hike in the Ngong Hills. Despite being robbed of incredible views, we managed to make the most of our walk/hike/run through a wind farm and up the steep goat-strewn peaks. I joined a few faculty and other students for late lunch at Swahili Plate, where I enjoyed a delicious meal of Matoke (a Ugandan plantain) and peanut sauce. In the evening, our ever-growing proposal team had a very productive meeting where we narrowed our focus to a more realistic and impactful target. The hardiest of partiers rounded out the night with a visit to the neighboring bar. The fact that we can hear the music from every room of the hotel should have been a sign… we clocked the noise at an ear-shattering 107 dB immediately inside the door. After finding an outdoor table, we had many discussions and laughs but called it an early night in preparation for our Safari departure at sunrise.

Sunday, June 25

Safari day began before sunrise as we sleepwalked into our buses. Before long, we were surrounded by miles and miles of grasslands and animals in Nairobi National Park. Some highlights of our safari were the caravan of zebras crossing the road, two lions seemingly stalking a parent and child rhino, and the diverse population of fowl. I wished the drive through the park would never end. After lunch in the park and some interactions with the hungry horde of parking lot baboons, we visited the animal orphanage and safari walk, where we met a pygmy hippo (henceforth referred to as Bob). Not to be cliche, but this was one hungry hippo. We also met Morgan, the photogenic 7 year old giraffe who likes to hide in the woods. A long day in the sun made a jump in the frigid hotel pool very refreshing for those who partook. A quiet night ended a day that will surely provide lifelong memories.

Monday, June 26

After an event-filled weekend, we filed into the fancy auditorium for the plenary lecture from Professor Harry Atwater, who spoke about his group’s innovative research at Caltech in the areas of solar-driven CO2 capture from ocean water and artificial photosynthesis. We also took our group photo on the balcony with the Nairobi skyline as a backdrop. By the end my face hurt from smiling, but I’ve never been so happy to take pictures with so many people. We resumed our normal programming with an excellent tutorial from Prof. Kelsey Hatzell regarding separations and inorganic membranes. Today’s lab involved concepts we covered in the tutorial, namely diffusion through membranes and separation via distillation. My proposal team got to tour labs at the University of Nairobi to help inform our characterization access project. We met for dinner at Java House to discuss our project, which ended up taking the rest of the night. More tomorrow!

Tuesday, June 27

Wow, the days are really running out until JUAMI 2023 ends and we all return to our home countries and universities. Dr. Chigome and Prof. Marta Hatzell kicked off the morning with lectures discussing fiber spinning and electrifying water treatment. Our host Prof. Francis Nyongesa gave an unexpected bonus lecture where he talked about his research in need-based issues: water and energy. Today’s lab involved operating a reversible fuel cell / electrolyzer device and calculating its polarization curve. The lab provided hands-on experience to complement the electrochemical flow cell tutorial from Prof. Brushett earlier in the day. The rest of the day has been spent getting a quick dinner from the supermarket and cramming to submit our proposal draft. Prof. Boettcher told us to go to bed early to be prepared for his lecture, so who am I to disobey?

Wednesday, June 28

In our last day of regularly scheduled programming, Prof. Zenyuk and Dr. Andala started bright and early by presenting on polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells for heavy duty applications and the Science Granting Councils Initiative, respectively. After tea break, Prof. Boettcher led the most energetic “low-energy” tutorial I’ve ever experienced where he applied fundamental thermodynamics to electrochemical systems and quizzed the room countless times, even stumping a few professors. In the final lab, we used JUAMI potentiostats to learn about electrochemical redox couples and the impact of electrolyte choice on hydrogen evolution activity. Finally, the main event; the second banquet began with a loud musical welcome, gifts of colorful clothing, and various beverages in cups made of coconuts, horns, and gourds. A vast spread of food, a few Tuskers, and diverse styles of dancing made the night enjoyable for all.

Thursday, June 29

This morning, Profs. Mallouk and Ayieta introduced their work in photoelectrochemistry, dye-sensitized solar cells, and nanofabrication. Later in the morning, the athletes among us divided into balanced teams for a game of football (or soccer for the Americans). The game was highly competitive and underlined by strong defensive performances. The opening goal came with about 5 minutes to play as Kofi smashed a ball through Prof. Boettcher’s hands. He bagged a brace a few minutes later with some quick team passing and a precise finish. The game ended 2-0 to the untucked side. I ran back to the hotel for a quick shower before lunch. In the afternoon, we had presentations from many of the faculty and organizers about getting published, applying for grad school in the US, and acquiring funding. The remainder of the day was dedicated to finalizing our project proposals, though a quick excursion for an Ethiopian dinner was well worth the time.

Friday, June 30

The spaces today are filled with excitement, gratitude, and sadness that this whirlwind experience is coming to a close. In the morning, each proposal team presented their idea for a research, outreach, or other type of project. The presentations were incredible and inspiring; the projects have the potential to make a real impact on the communities they target, whether they be in classrooms or research circles. The high number of proposals unfortunately left us with an accelerated and highly emotional closing ceremony as we say goodbye to friends we’ve grown close to and learned from over the past two weeks. The entire experience has been overwhelmingly positive and I find myself not wanting to leave. We have all learned so much about materials research, energy devices, and people. Thank you to the JUAMI organizers, speakers, and TA’s for all of the hard work that went into making this program so memorable.