Rob and I are both students who are part of the AAPS CDT, who will be doing projects in part of the same structural battery research group at the University of Bath. We will be working closely with carbon fiber and trying to include this material in lithium-ion batteries, which will hopefully lead stronger batteries that can have many different uses. The group we have joined has only just started, so we travelled to Sweden to visit Chalmers University of Technology and KTH Royal Institute of Technology to talk to other groups we are collaborating with, that are already researching in this area, so that we can learn in more detail about where we can go with our research.
Day 1 - Heathrow to Gothenburg
We started off the day far too early at 5:30am to catch our early morning flight from Heathrow to Gothenburg our first stop. We stayed at a hotel at Heathrow the night before so that we didn’t have to get up any earlier! The early start was made bearable by not only a great buffet breakfast, but also, we got to ride in one of the autonomous Heathrow Airport Pods. Being science and technology nerds doing a MRes in Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems, this made us far too excited! These are slightly different to the regular airport shuttles, as, these are not electric trains that feel like the underground, these have their own small roads that they silently drive along towards the destination. Once at a parking bay, there is an electric charging portal underneath the car that connects to a terminal at the base of the car, so it becomes fully charged for the next use! These felt a bit like one of the gondola lifts at a ski resort as you sit facing the other passengers and there is no one else in sight. This is us in one of the miraculous pods!
We had a great flight due to the plane being mostly empty, so we were able to catch up on some sleep (or some quick reading of papers that should have been read days before). Once we landed, we were pleasantly greeted by security saying “god morgon”, which means “good morning” in Swedish. Throughout the trip the Swedish stereotype of being incredibly welcoming, kind people was constantly being reinforced by small gestures, such as these small hellos and being asked how we were, this is a stereotype that I’m sure they don’t mind me making.
Once we arrived in Gothenburg, we took the bus from the airport to the area where our hotel was located. This was an amazing drive through the forests with huge rocky facades, seeing completely different scenery to the west country of England! On arrival at Gothenburg we went for a bite to eat and then straight to the hotel to put our bags down so we could try and explore the city. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t quite good enough for us to do a proper tour of the city, so we went back to the hotel early to prepare for the next day at Chalmers University.
Day 2 – Chalmers University of Technology
Another early morning rewarded with a great buffet breakfast. Before we left the hotel, we rehearsed our presentations one last time, which went over our previous research and our plans for our PhD projects. The aim of trip to Chalmers University was to meet with professors and researchers to discuss our research aims for the next three years in conjunction with theirs. As part of the collaboration we will be working very closely with Prof. Lief Asp and his team on structural batteries, so we wanted to make sure that our research would fall in line with theirs with minimal overlap or repetition of tests. This made it a long day of presentations and discussions from different members of both groups about the research that is going to be done in the future.
After lunch we were given laboratory tours around the different areas where these particular types of batteries were constructed. We were showed various techniques and equipment used in the labs, one technique was done in an argon atmosphere inside a glovebox, which we tested ourselves! This was a great thing to do, as it meant we could start thinking about what equipment we would need to try and get back in Bath to match what they were doing at Chalmers.
After we left Chalmers and said our goodbyes to the fantastic group that Lief has, we hopped on a tram straight to the train station so we could head to our next destination - Stockholm, where we would meet a group at KTH University. The train was delayed (for cleaning purposes) so by the time we boarded, it was completely dark which was disappointing as we couldn’t see the landscape as we travelled through the country. We arrived very late to the hotel in Stockholm, but this didn’t stop us from having a small wonder around the city as this may have been our only chance to see the city! We made it to the waterfront where we could see how far the city extended out with a huge Christmas tree on the side of the pavement! By this point, the cold and tiredness got the better of us and we headed back towards the hotel.
Day 3 – KTH Royal institute of Technology
The last early morning start was a pleasant one, as overnight it had snowed to leave a true winter wonderland! The sky was crystal clear without a cloud in the sky, which encouraged us to walk from our hotel to KTH, (a good 20/25-minutes). This was worth it as we were able to see lots of Stockholm, covered in white, which made it the most beautiful city! Even once we got to KTH, the University was stunning. It almost seemed like a very large, Oxbridge college made from redbrick. It was made even more amazing by the snow, which just made it more serene and peaceful (probably from the lack of students as they all try to stay indoors and away from the cold)!
Here we met up with another group who was led by Prof. Dan Zenkert, who works closely with Lief from Chalmers on structural batteries. He had a wonderful group, made up of two Frenchman, a Scotsman and a German, all just a bit older than us. Their group focused on more fundamental processes and materials used than the group at Chalmers, which had more focus on the mechanical aspects of the battery, although this was still a very important factor.
We had a tour around their labs, where we were shown their 3D printer which is used to make custom-made devices for unique set ups in the laboratory, as well as different types of graphene sheets and cutting processes. These tours were in their mechanical engineering labs, which is very different to what Rob and I are used to with our (somewhat) clean white labs, with white lab coats and all very small scaled chemistry.
With that being our last visit, we made our way to Stockholm airport, where we were able to reflect on the amazing trip. This trip had not only given us the opportunity to visit a part of the world which we had never been to before, but also a new excitement to start our PhD research projects and encouragement that our work could one day be used to help the automotive industry push towards a more efficient use of scarce resources to help keep transport comfortable as well as sustainable.