Yuhang Lee is currently studying Engineering and Material Sciences at the University of Oxford. Yuhang completed his A-Levels in KTJ and is graduating in 2022. This personal statement was part of his successful application to University of Oxford, Imperial College London, University of Sheffield, University of Manchester and University of Birmingham.
I took part in the Sin Chew Poverty Camp in rural China during the height of winter, and immediately felt sympathy for their primitive dwellings. Limited by the costly electricity supply, they are compelled to do with dimly lit rooms and envelope themselves with layers for warmth. Experiencing their plight, I learned that energy is exceptionally crucial to the underprivileged. Inspired by the First Law of Thermodynamics, I am fascinated by the potential for composite materials that can harness wasted energy and transfer it to useful energy. Should a material, which is able to recycle the heat radiated by electrical appliances and transfer it to electrical energy, be devised, it would significantly reduce the reliance on power grids in electricity-deficit areas.
About 70% of all energy generated is wasted as heat. Relating to a recent scandal, the exploding Samsung smartphones were due to the excessive heat caused by the short circuits of the batteries. As the electrolyte used is volatile, upon heating, gas bubbles formed causing the cell to lose structural integrity, therefore a short circuit occurs. An electrolyte requiring higher enthalpy to combust could be the solution, however, it comes at the expense of battery efficiency. While still maintaining the phones’ sleek and pocketable designs, I believe the integration of a material that functions like thermoelectric generators (TEG) could be a possible solution.
My hypothesis can be realised based on the study by Dimitris Niarchos. Although there exists TEGs, the conversion efficiency is low and the heat required is high. In my opinion, the insertion of nanopores into the materials will decrease their thermal conductivity, therefore increasing the conversion from heat to electrical energy. The challenge, however, lies on the maturity of nanotechnology, as it is difficult to insert equal-sized nanopores into materials. Should it succeed, heat can be considered as a form of renewable energy. It will tackle the growing concern regarding the depletion of natural resources. Considering it can also utilise external heat and therefore alleviate global warming, it is known as green technology.
I observed that nanotechnology also plays a critical role in ultra-high performance concrete (UHPC). Due to its inert properties, it is impermeable to the growth of bacteria and mould, besides being resistant to acid, which preserves the structures and prolongs the lifespan of buildings. This was learnt through my internship at FRUHPC. I was given a range of jobs from calculating the amount of materials needed, to determining the optimum proportion of raw materials through tests. As I tested concrete of different curing periods, I was amazed by the compressive strength of UHPC could withstand, 150MPa, which is stronger by approximately 5 times than that of regular concrete. Instead of steel bars, micro steel fibre is used, which decreases its weight by 60%. The creative mindset of improvising mundane objects by modifying existing designs captured my attention. I was impressed by the perseverance and innovation of the engineers whom I interned with. Their resilience and enthusiasm in searching for improvements to the properties of concrete was inspirational, and only cemented my resolve to join their profession.
I have benefited greatly from a successful participation in the Mighty Challenge, the Sunway Maths and Logic Challenge, the Kangaroo Mathematics and Australian Mathematics Competition, all of which exposed me to a framework used to solve problems in greater depth. Through the Designing Thinking course, I have learned to be open-minded and think from different perspectives, as there is infinite methods of overcoming an obstacle.
My aspirations to change the world through the study of material engineering might seem audacious, but my commitment to playing a part in pushing forward frontiers and bringing relief to the wider public proves that innovation knows no boundaries.
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