Postdoctoral Trainee in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Koushik Pal is a postdoctoral trainee in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering. His research focuses on understanding, designing, and discovering high-performance energy materials using advanced computational methodologies.
How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience?
Every technology that we use in our daily lives crucially depends on some kind of materials. For example, silicon is one of the most important materials that is used in electronic devices. Similarly, for renewable and sustainable energy technologies, different classes of energy materials are utilized. I work on one such class of energy material called thermoelectrics. By using advanced computational algorithms and powerful supercomputers, I design new and efficient thermoelectric materials that may be used to generate electricity by harnessing the waste heat generated in the exhaust of cars or in industrial power plants.
What have been some of the most memorable twists and turns of your career?
One of the most memorable moments was that time when I decided to switch gears and jump into the exciting field of interdisciplinary research programs of materials science from a physics background.
Tell us what inspired your research and/or work.
To meet the global demand for green energy and to reduce carbon emission, we need to harness current renewable energy technologies more efficiently than their present efficacies. One important step in this direction is to design and discover new highly efficient materials that power them. Since conventional trial-and-error methods for finding such materials in the laboratory can be extremely resource and time-intensive, I wanted to help experimentalists find the right materials by using theory and computational modeling to save time, money, and human labor.
What is the biggest potential impact or implication of your work?
The biggest potential impact of my work would be to enhance the generation of renewable and clean energy sources that would reduce our dependence on fossil fuels that release harmful gases to our environments.
Truly interdisciplinary research programs, excellent research facilities, world-class research groups, a highly diverse community with people from all over the world, and last, but not least, its scenic campus by the lake.
What books are on your bedside table?
After listening to a talk by 2019 Nobel Laureate (Economic Sciences) Abhijit Banerjee at Northwestern, I have grown an interest in development economics which highlights the problems and suggests solutions to solve poverty and socio-economic conditions in developing and underdeveloped nations. Hence, I currently have two books on my bedsides co-authored by Prof. Banerjee: (1) Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty and (2) Good Economics for Hard Times. While I recently finished reading the first book and greatly enjoyed it, I have yet to start the second one.
What advice would you give your younger self or someone considering a similar path?
The journey of a researcher is mixed with excitement and challenges. When faced with a challenge, don’t give up too easily. The first step is to get over the mental barrier that naturally builds up around the challenge and then to overcome it strategically with help from peers and mentors. A few essential elements for achieving in academia are passion, motivation, perseverance, fitness (physical and mental), and hard work.
Tell us about a current achievement or something you're working on that excites you.
Besides being a dedicated researcher, I feel the need to contribute to society in some way or the other. Being an academic, what better way is there than to teach underprivileged kids who do not have access to proper educational resources? To fulfill this, I mentor a high schooler who comes from a very humble background through a nonprofit organization. It’s been two years since I began mentoring the student, and I am very happy to share that he is doing quite well academically. I think this is a nice achievement in my career.
Published: August 10, 2021
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