Uddipana Kakati: Redefining the Landscape of Clean Energy

PhD Chemistry, CST '23

Uddipana Kakati graduated from Temple in 2023 with a PhD in Chemistry, and her work involved studying and modifying chemical bonds and investigating the change through radiation-matter interaction to develop unique materials for clean energy application. From using water to make hydrogen, a clean fuel, to developing new technology for solar panels, Uddipana has contributed significantly to her field both during and after her PhD.

Uddipana Kakati headshot

How did you end up at Temple for grad school?

I did my undergrad and master’s in India, and during my master’s I had an internship with the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune. I found out about Temple during my internship because the institute had an ongoing collaboration with Temple’s chemistry department, and my internship advisor suggested that Temple would be a great place to look when I started thinking about a PhD. I knew I wanted to do something in the field of clean energy, and Daniel Strongin’s Lab happened to be a great place for my research interests.

Can you describe some of your PhD work at Temple?

My goal during my PhD was to learn about what is stopping us from completely switching to clean energy and if there is anything I can do as a chemist. There are different types of clean energy like solar, wind, hydrogen energy, etc. At Strongin lab, I had the opportunity to study how we can use an earth-abundant resource like water and convert it into a clean fuel. Water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen, and when you pass electricity through water and use a catalyst during the process, you can break water into hydrogen and oxygen. From there, you can use the hydrogen and oxygen in a fuel cell to drive a car or power up a whole building and the best part of this process (using a fuel cell) is that the by-product is just water, making it a totally clean process. I primarily focused on designing and characterizing these catalysts that can efficiently split water into hydrogen.

What are some valuable skills you learned while at Temple?

I think I had both technical and interpersonal growth during my time at Temple. When I first came into the program, I had limited experience with chemical synthesis and operating state-of-the-art analytical instruments. I became more skilled with them over time, and as a senior student I even ended up mentoring junior students in setting chemical reactions and operating as well as troubleshooting analytical instruments. I also grew a lot as an independent researcher – my advisor always encouraged my ideas and gave me the freedom to think outside the box. As I reached my third and fourth year, I was able to drive projects, present solutions, and collaborate with my advisors and other researchers. In addition, I was able to grow my interpersonal and presentation skills by presenting my work within the department as well as at national conferences.

How did you end up working in the Strongin lab at Temple?

During my first semester at Temple, I visited different research groups and attended their group meetings. Meeting Dr. Strongin and his group (coupled with their fun group dynamic!) felt like a perfect fit for my research interest, and even after 6 years I totally think it was the best decision I could have made. Dr. Strongin is just wonderful to work with and my lab mates were extremely encouraging, all of whom brilliant scientists and are some of the amazing friends I made through this journey. Well, this is what happens when you all have the best advisor in the world!

What kind of work have you been doing since graduating from Temple?

Right after graduation, I joined a thin film solar panel research and manufacturing company called First Solar, in Ohio. As a development engineer, I lead continuous improvement initiatives to enhance the efficiency of solar modules and facilitate successful transition of processes from the laboratory to the production scale. It’s exciting to see my ideas transform into real products. Every year the company encourages innovation and contribution towards creating better, cheaper, and more efficient clean energy solutions.

Any advice you might offer to potential grad students with similar goals to yours?

To anyone considering a PhD, I would say make sure you're truly passionate about the field, or the process will feel like a struggle. I love chemistry, and I loved the work I was doing in my PhD, so even at points where my reactions didn't work (multiple times), I was able to keep going and keep myself motivated and inspired. Second, it’s important that you choose your lab and advisor wisely. Take your time – many people shoot for the high-end branding of a university, but the critical things to consider are the people you will be learning from and working with. The Strongin lab and the chemistry department made this challenging journey truly amazing and memorable for me.