Nick Samuel

Improving Hydrogen Production Efficiency from Electrode Surface Modifications

UAF Senior
B.S. Mechanical Engineering
Hometown: Fairbanks, Alaska

Nick working in the lab.
Nick working in the lab, measuring and marking supplies for the construction of the experimental electrolyzer.

Nick is a Fall 2023 Student Project Award Recipient. 

Under the mentorship of Dr. Sun Woo Kim, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Nick's research explores how surface modifications to the metal electrodes used in electrolysis can improve the efficiency of hydrogen gas production. Hydrogen gas is a key player in green energy and advances in the efficiency of production can have an impact climate change. 

How is your project going so far this semester?

My project is going well so far. The original plan was to modify an existing prebuilt electrolysis kit that was used originally. After careful consideration, my mentor and I decided to design and build our own experimental electrolyzer to meet all our needs and is in progress right now! This will allow for a much better analysis of electrode surfaces and gas production, which in the end should give us better data to learn from. Long shipping times for supplies to Alaska delayed things for a little bit. Now that everything is here, I am ready to continue all the work and research!

How did you find out about URSA and what encouraged you to submit an application for funding?

I originally heard about URSA from my older brother who had received funding for a project a few years ago. I always had an interest in pursuing a research project and applying for URSA funding, but I never had a good idea of what I might research. Throughout my schooling, an opportunity came up to work for Dr. Kim as an undergraduate research assistant on a hydrogen generation project. This project developed over the spring semester, and with Dr. Kim's guidance as a mentor, I applied for URSA funding for the following fall semester. Thankfully, I received full funding, and it has been such a great opportunity to participate in this research.

Nick's project supplies on a table.
Some of Nick's supplies that are being marked to be cut or modified for the experimental electrolyzer design.

How does your URSA project relate to your career or personal goals?

I think that being involved in a URSA project is very important for my personal and career goals. I have learned many valuable skills about the research process on a professional level and have a better understanding of experimental design as a result. Both of these are very important for my future career. I aspire to be in the mechanical design field, so understanding the research and design processes gives me valuable knowledge that will allow me to contribute more in my future career. On a personal level, it has helped me develop interpersonal skills and gain experience collaborating on a project which will have benefits far beyond just my career.

If you could share one piece of advice with students interested in pursuing URSA in the future, what would you say?

One thing I would tell someone is that doing URSA research won't necessarily be easy. It will take hard work, dedicating time, and possibly stepping out of your comfort zone to work on projects or with people you are not familiar with. It is difficult, but those difficulties are what makes it so important and rewarding. Getting experience with research during your undergraduate years is very valuable for building a resume and something that interviewers will definitely take an interest in. It helps teach you skills for your research field and you have the opportunity to collaborate with many different people across the university. Even if you're just a freshman, don't be afraid to talk to professors, learn more about what they are researching, and see how you can be involved. The experience you will gain from an URSA project can be much more valuable than what you can learn in the classroom.