Meet the PARC Researcher: Jessy Rivest Sheds Light on New Energy Materials

Jessy Rivest manages PARC’s Energy Materials & Systems group in the Hardware Systems Laboratory, which seeks to impact the way energy is produced, managed, and utilized through a diverse set of projects leveraging interfacial materials and systems engineering.

Jessy, what is your team working on these days at PARC?

We’re working on a range of materials and system development projects for energy applications. When we invent new energy systems, we uncover needs for new types of materials; and when we design new materials, we uncover shortcuts to making some energy systems work better.

One thing my team has been putting a lot of cycles into recently is the development of a new polymeric aerogel. We began this journey during a brainstorm about how to make transparent insulation for single-pane windows. A researcher here at PARC taught us about a Xerox-developed polymerization method that he thought would do the trick. What resulted was a material that is completely new to the world – a transparent, polymeric material, that is highly insulating and mechanically robust. We’re thinking about which applications would be most impacted by transparent insulation (single-pane retrofits for winter heating savings), and what other applications this new material may be useful in.

Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to PARC?

I was at a BBQ one spring day, while in the midst of my postdoc, and I met a PARC employee. We got to talking about science, and I was invited to give a talk at PARC. I rarely turn down an opportunity to talk about my science! So I came to PARC expecting to meet some interesting scientists and tell them about my work, and I found that and so much more, an environment rich with high-caliber people who care about interesting technologies and how they can impact the world in a positive way.

What do you enjoy most about working at PARC?

What originally drew me to PARC continues to be the reason I love working here. During my time at PARC, I have been honored to work with a wide range of brilliant scientists and engineers. Today, I divide my time between pruning the rose bush of ideas my team generates; brainstorming how to get over the latest technological hurdle in a project; talking to stakeholders about how a nascent technology might impact their business; and raising funding for all the cool technologies my team invents.

Which breakthrough do you think could have the biggest impact on our current energy challenges?

Carbon-neutral hydrogen production. This underpins a large chunk of our greenhouse gas emissions that is not addressable with commercially available energy technology. The right hydrogen production method could enable demand-side management that allowed for ultra-high penetrations of intermittent renewable electricity sources. It could provide the basis for transport fuels such as jet fuel and long-range trucking fuel that cannot easily be replaced by batteries. It could enable the production of structural materials such as concrete and steel without the corresponding huge CO2 emissions those industries produce today.

Which other field, scientific or not, could you imagine yourself working in?

Zookeeping. I have two little kids at home.

What is some advice you can offer a young scientist working in your field?

Focus your ambition on the quality of your work, and take the time to think about how your project fits into the bigger picture and impacts the world.

Jessy Rivest has studied the materials science of energy technologies for more than a decade, developing novel kerfless wafering equipment for silicon solar cells (in industry), self-assembly methods for achieving heterostructured thin film photovoltaics and batteries (in academia), and new surface chemistries to tune the properties of nanocrystals and inorganic films (in a national lab). Her work encompasses the lifecycle of materials advancement: materials design, development, characterization, and manufacturing systems engineering.

Dr. Rivest holds a Ph.D. and an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from UC Berkeley, and an S.B. in Mechanical Engineering from MIT. She has authored publications garnering over 1,000 citations, and has been honored with an Intel Fellowship, a National Science Foundation Fellowship, and as a competitor at the International (robot) Design Competition (Osaka, Japan). She currently serves on the User Executive Committee of The Molecular Foundry and on the editorial board of the journal Frontiers in Energy Research. Learn more about Jessy Rivest and her team’s research.

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