Andlinger Center celebrates graduates of a pandemic year, awards senior prize for sustainable hydrogen production using lasers

Written by
Molly Seltzer, Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment
June 7, 2021

Acknowledging the difficult circumstances of the past year, Andlinger Center director Yueh-Lin (Lynn) Loo praised the resilience and adaptability of the center’s 14 graduating seniors in the annual Class Day ceremony on Monday, May 24.

“You all were grappling with remote classes, thesis research, the loss of family and friends, and even fellow students,” said Loo, the Theodora D. ‘78 and William H. Walton III ’74 Professor in Engineering. “And yet, you are here, where classes of students have stood before you, celebrating the outstanding accomplishment of earning a Princeton degree, and a certificate in an area that will serve you and allow you to serve the world, striving for a better future for all.”

Twelve students earned certificates in sustainable energy and two in technology and society: energy track. Professor Elke Weber, the center’s associate director for education, said the senior thesis presentations were fantastic. Some of the research topics presented included developing lithium supply in the United States, tracking nitrous oxide pollution and the link to changed transportation patterns during the COVID-19 lockdowns in the United States, and electricity market and policy reform.

Alex Kaplan

Alex Kaplan

Alex Kaplan, a senior in the Program for Sustainable Energy, was awarded the Andlinger Center Senior Thesis Prize in Energy and the Environment for his presentation on using a laser to convert methane, a greenhouse gas, into hydrogen that could be used for fuel or energy storage. Typically, hydrogen is produced using steam reformation of methane, an energy-intensive process producing large amounts of CO2 emissions. The laser technique promotes a reaction that breaks the methane into hydrogen gas for use and solid carbon, avoiding CO2 emissions.

Kaplan’s thesis advisor, Claire Gmachl, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Electrical Engineering,  called his research “truly outstanding” and said the research demonstrates a strong commitment to understanding and solving the world’s energy and environmental problems.

Yiguang Ju, the Robert Porter Patterson Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and director of the Program in Sustainable Energy, said Kaplan’s approach “provides a promising low-emission hydrogen production pathway.”

Kaplan, who plans to work at Cometeer, a startup coffee company, after graduation, thanked the Andlinger Center for incredible opportunities to pursue high quality, independent research with some of the leading professors in these fields in the world.

“I’m also greatly indebted to Professor Gmachl for being an incredible senior thesis advisor, providing me constant support and guidance in this project,” he said.

The graduates embark on their next adventure to apply what they have learned to remediate energy and environmental issues of all types. Rei Zhang, who studied nitrous oxide pollution in the United States, will apply the analysis skills gained during her senior thesis as an air quality engineer for Ramboll. Five of the students are pursuing masters of engineering degrees at Princeton in the departments in which they conducted their undergraduate research. They will build on their senior theses by undertaking further studies in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

This article was originally published on the Andlinger Center website.