Nanotechnology, Clean Energy and Inner Harmony

Ranganath Teki this month will earn his doctorate in chemical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, but his quest for learning and knowledge is far from complete. Along with his cutting-edge nanomaterials research and clever green energy innovations, Teki is fostering an undying fascination for the world around him and a greater appreciation for the connectedness of it all.

Photo Credit: Rensselaer/Mark McCarty

“I believe there’s a certain harmony in the universe, and my education and research is part of my attempt to understand that harmony,” Teki said. “I believe that life is not just about money, or success, or having a family, but about discovering oneself. I am constantly trying to find that harmony in life, trying to find the balance between the inner life and outer life.”

In his time at Rensselaer, Teki has developed a suite of four nanomaterials innovations that aim to hasten more widespread adoption of next-generation green technologies. At the heart of Teki’s research is the technique of oblique angle deposition (OAD) using sputtering, which allows him to grow vast forests of nanoscale structures of different materials. The process is relatively fast, inexpensive, and allows single-step creation of unique nanostructures with controllable shape, size, and symmetry.

Teki’s research touches on battery life, and he developed nanostructured anodes for lithium-ion batteries, which are made from silicon nanorods rather than traditional graphite anodes. Early prototypes demonstrated a four-fold increase in capacity. Teki’s second technology involved improved materials for use in fuel cells. He fabricated a new type of ultra-thin platinum nanorod electrode arrays for use in all polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) fuel cells, and demonstrated that his invention shows improved mass-specific performance over conventional fuel cells.

His research has also resulted in the development of new solutions that could result in more efficient zinc-oxide-based hybrid organic solar cells, and more sensitive photomultiplier-based photon detectors that could boost physics, forensics, and medical diagnostics devices. Taken together, Teki’s four innovations hold the promise of advancing the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of key green energy technologies that could impact all people of all nations.

“We live in a society which is out of balance with nature, and I believe green energy technology more than anything else holds the potential to better our situation,” Teki said. “We need to move away from our dependence on fossil fuels and create energy from environment-friendly resources.”

Born and raised in the Indian capital of New Delhi, Teki inherited his love of science and technology from his father, a professor of chemical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. Teki enjoys the support of his parents and his brother, who is studying neuroscience at University of Oxford in England.

Teki said that he likes doing service work and helping out others in need. He volunteers at the Troy, N.Y-based Rosa Catholic Worker House and the international nonprofit Art of Living Foundation. He has also organized seminars and workshops on yoga breathing techniques at Rensselaer.

“I’ve always been interested in spirituality and have reflected upon all religious philosophies. I have my own practice of yoga, breathing exercises, and meditation,” he said. “Yoga helps you de-stress, and better deal with the various challenges life throws at you. It has helped me to enhance the quality of both my academic life and personal life.”

As a doctoral student at Rensselaer, Teki has co-authored eight journal papers, and in 2005 received the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering Howard. P. Isermann Fellowship. Following Commencement, Teki will join Rensselaer’s Center for Future Energy Systems as a postdoctoral researcher. It’s a step forward toward his larger goal of becoming a professor.

“My dream job is to be a teacher. I not only want to show students the elegance and power of science and mathematics, but also pass on my worldly experience and help broaden their outlook of life,” Teki said. “That would be really fulfilling.”

His doctoral advisor, Nikhil Koratkar, professor of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering at Rensselaer, said this drive distinguishes and elevates Teki as a researcher.

“Teki is extremely knowledgeable, has great confidence in his abilities and has demonstrated a very high level of creativity and originality — but what stands out the most is his deep passion for research and discovery,” Koratkar said.

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