Science Slam: Dark Matter and Liquid Batteries for Electric Vehicles

Can we use electric current to check the freshness of foods? What is dark matter? And how do we make a "liquid battery" for electric vehicles? To learn more, read our article about the recent Science Slam in St. Petersburg. This time school students could also take part in the competition. Based on audience votes, the jury chose two winners who were awarded with the main prize: boxing gloves.

Six speakers competed for the audience’s applause: three young scientists and three school students from St. Petersburg. The rules didn’t change: the participants had to explain their research in layman’s terms to the not-so-scientific audience.

What is enteral nutrition? How does it work and in what way can it be useful to everybody? asked Artem Lepeshkin, a post-graduate student at the Department of Food Biotechnologies and Engineering. Iana Romanchikova, a ninth grade student from St. Petersburg, also presented her research on food biotechnologies and shared her ideas on how to check the freshness of meat and fish using electric current.

Iana Romanchikova
Iana Romanchikova

Kseniya Baryshnikova, a research associate at the Department of Nanophotonics and Metamaterials, told the audience about dark matter, while Maksim Miagkikh, a high-school student from St. Petersburg, presented his research and shared his ideas on how nanostructures can increase the efficiency of solar cells.

Anton Kozubov, a research associate at the Faculty of Photonics and Optical Information Technology at ITMO University, expressed his views on the threats quantum computers pose to modern society and explained why we need to improve encryption methods. And Elisaveta Avdeenko, a high-school student from St. Petersburg, knows how to make a “liquid battery” for electric vehicles that will be cheaper and safer than conventional batteries.

Maksim Miagkikh
Maksim Miagkikh

Kseniya Baryshnikova, Research Associate at the Department of Nanophotonics and Metamaterials

What does "fundamental science" mean? For example, you may have heard about a superstar explosion, or tin foil hats or maybe you attend lectures on general relativity at the university. Or maybe you google pretty pictures and accidentally stumble upon string theory, galactic bubbles or neutron stars.

It all sounds (and looks) very fascinating. But you think it’s almost impossible to understand. And what’s more, you believe that there is no need to understand it at all, since it is completely useless. I used to think the same way when I had to choose my path in science. Back then, I immediately excluded from my list space science, general relativity and the like; I wanted my work to be useful for ordinary people. I couldn’t even imagine that such a thing as "dark matter" would ever interest me. In the end, everything turned out differently, and today I want to tell you about one of the theories that explains the existence of dark matter. It is called "anapole".

Kseniya Baryshnikova
Kseniya Baryshnikova

What is dark matter? It constitutes nearly 96% of our universe, but its nature is a mystery. There is no theory that would be 100% proven and correct, since dark matter is essentially undetectable, and many theories compete with each other over being the simplest and the most beautiful. There is a theory called anapole. It is very simple. Imagine a doughnut or torus. So, most of the matter in the universe may be made out of particles that possess this doughnut-shaped electromagnetic field called an anapole.

Elisaveta Avdeenko, High-School Student From St. Petersburg

It is common knowledge that cars pollute the air. Electric vehicles have almost solved this problem: they use less energy and emit less carbon dioxide than their conventional counterparts. But it’s not that simple.

There are still some critical questions that need to be answered before we give electric cars the green light. First, electric cars are very expensive. For example, a Tesla costs about $50,000. Second, electric vehicles take too long to recharge. And finally, if you have an accident and damage your vehicle's battery pack, the battery can catch fire. By the way, the battery is the most expensive component of an electric vehicle.

Credit: ekoavtos.ru
Credit: ekoavtos.ru

How do rechargeable batteries work? A rechargeable battery, or accumulator, is a type of electrical battery which can be charged and recharged many times – as opposed to a disposable battery, which is supplied fully charged and discarded after use. But what if we could recharge disposable batteries as well? They are much cheaper and safer, since they can’t catch fire.

To make regular batteries rechargeable and suitable for electric cars, we had to improve them and make them liquid. So we took all the active substances – cathode, anode and electrolyte, added some starch and made liquid electrodes.

Elisaveta Avdeenko
Elisaveta Avdeenko

How does this new battery work? Positive and negative electrode materials cannot mix, so they have to be stored in separate tanks. But at the same time they should interact with each other. So we made our battery in the shape of a snail’s shell. Not because it is beautiful, but because it allows us to extend the surface area and provide more sites for electrochemical reactions to occur.

Credit: extremetech.com
Credit: extremetech.com

How do we recharge these "liquid batteries"? Regular cars use gasoline, and when you run out of it, you go to a gas station and fill up. Our electric car will work in a similar way: you also go to a gas station, but instead of gasoline, you load up on cathode, anode and electrolyte. I hope that one day this system will work and electric cars will become safer and cheaper.

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