By: Jasper Singh

On the ill-fated maiden voyage of April 1912, Mr. J Dawson, and Ms. R Bukater fell deeply in love, their blossoming romance transcending far beyond their societal class differences. Rose, trapped in an engagement to another more affluent aristocrat, Mr. C Hockley, could only dream of a life filled with adventure and euphoria alongside her beloved Jack, an aspiring but underprivileged artist. That is until the RMS Titanic hit a stray iceberg. Amidst the terror and horror, coupled with fleeting ideas of chance and opportunity, Rose and Jack saw the possibility of escape and a future together.

Ultimately, we know the ending to this unfortunate tale. But what if we had the power to throw them a lifeline? My research in aqueous electrolyte Lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries gives me the chance to re-write the script. Li-ion batteries are a ground-breaking energy storage technology used in smartphones, laptops, and electric vehicles. They enable and facilitate the widespread adoption of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, which in turn helps tackle climate change. However, in a dramatic twist reminiscent of most tales, lead characters like Rose Bukater (Li-ion batteries) often find themselves matched with controlling, entitled antagonists like Cal Hockley (organic electrolytes). Their inherent wealth and social status (wide stability window), promises a life filled with security and financial freedom (large energy density). Unfortunately, Jack Dawson’s low socioeconomic background (narrow stability window) prevents him from even being considered by Miss Bukater’s family. Hindering the couple’s dreams of marriage and a successful life together, representing aqueous electrolytes being used commercially in Li-ion batteries.

Like Rose’s parents, deciding to fund research in aqueous electrolyte Li-ion batteries proves challenging when organic electrolytes appear more than sufficient at a first glance. Yet, Jack Dawson isn’t solely defined by his wealth or social class; he has many other desirable traits and characteristics that make him unique. He is well-mannered (non-flammable), thoughtful (environmentally friendly), supportive (safer), and has humble beginnings (more affordable), and most importantly, is just as deserving of love.1 Everyone loves an underdog story and my research in water-based electrolyte Li-ion batteries is exactly that.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were established by the United Nations to address the most pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges facing our world by 2030. Jack and Rose’s successful partnership in aqueous electrolyte Li-ion batteries has the potential to contribute to several of these targets. My research looks to rewrite the story line through understanding how water can be better used as a medium in Li-ion batteries. This change will dramatically reduce the cost of the battery, and in turn reduce the cost of electric vehicles and other environmentally friendly technology, accelerating the global transition towards sustainable energy use throughout the world.2

We’ve witnessed these intimate, tear-jerking, but uplifting narratives before. From the 1988 Winter Olympics Jamaican Bobsleigh team, determined to prove themselves in a sport foreign to their homeland in “Cool Runnings”, to small-time boxer “Rocky” Balboa, and his heavyweight title shot against undefeated Apollo Creed. Both climactic stories full of grit and optimism, falling poignantly short at the very final hurdle. Sometimes these heart-breaking stories don’t go to plan, but then again, we can only imagine what if

One of the ways I can look to re-write these narratives through my research is by delving deeper into the inter-personal relationships of the characters. Observing how Jack interacts with other members of the crew is important in working out how he managed to survive the shipwreck for so long. In the context of my research, I ponder how water interacts with additives like urea. Through a combination of theory-based approaches such as molecular dynamic simulations, alongside rigorous experimental exploration, I aim to understand the mechanisms behind the delayed breakdown of water when certain additives are introduced. Learning more about Jack’s resourcefulness will enable me in rewriting his journey with Rose. By uncovering the reasons as to why urea expands water’s stability window and therefore enabling a higher energy density, I gain the ability to reshape the narratives we hold dear to ourselves.

The 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was attributed to the Li-ion battery, not surprisingly, using an organic electrolyte. So the challenge remains ready for the taking. But perhaps our favourite stories aren’t meant to be altered. Perhaps there was enough space for both Jack and Rose on the floating door, but they just weren’t meant to be. Or perhaps the Jamaican Bobsleigh team taught their competition a thing or two, propelling them towards breaking the world record. It might not be a matter of rewriting history, but rather, refining the narrative. Either way, my DPhil brings us one step closer to the finish line.


  1. L. Suo, O. Borodin, T. Gao, M. Olguin, J. Ho, X. Fan, C. Luo, C. Wang and K. Xu, Science, 2015, 350, 938–943.
  2. J. Xie, Z. Liang and Y.-C. Lu, Nature Materials, 2020, 19, 1006–1011.