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Relena Wong

SFU Student Undergraduate
Applied Sciences › Sustainable Energy Engineering

Position Title
The highlight of being a research assistant at SFU’s Fuel Cell Research Laboratory was being able to collaborate with various researchers on their projects such as membrane durability testing, mechanical cross pressure testing, hydrogen storage testing, and more.
Experience Details
Application and Interview Tips

Before the interview, I researched the FCReL group by reading about their projects and achievements and learned about fuel cell technology by reading articles and research papers. Although I didn't have a deep understanding of the topic, I was able to confidently answer the interview questions based on what I knew about fuel cells.

Introduction + Preparation
Previous Experience

As a Sustainable Energy Engineering student, this is my first co-op experience. The courses I found helpful during these work terms are Measurement, Analysis, and Forecasting (SEE 241) and Electric Circuits (SEE 230). These two courses helped with analyzing the diagnostics in Excel and understanding the significance of the experiment properties measured such as impedance, capacitance and current density. Another helpful course was General Lab and Chemistry (CHEM 121) which helped with understanding the various electrochemical reactions during the experiments. My lab experience from this course was an asset to my current position. 

During my Experience
Orientation and First Weeks

Prior to officially starting my work term at SFU FCREL, I had a couple of training orientations with the previous co-op student. They demonstrated how to assemble different cell fixtures and how to operate the computer software for testing. Having a notebook to jot down key steps and important notes helped me remember how to complete tasks such as setting up experiments. This helped me significantly in the following weeks after I started, as I was still getting the hang of things. The researchers were patient and understanding during the learning phase. I was also sent some thesis research papers that provided detailed information about the fuel cell experiments, which helped with understanding the purpose of the experiments. Orientations with various researchers about their fuel cell experiments deepened my knowledge so that I was able to understand the purpose and goal of their tests.

Day to Day
General Tasks

When I arrive at the lab, I check the hydrogen and nitrogen gas supply to ensure that there is enough for experiments to run. The hydrogen and nitrogen gas supply usually lasts for one month before they have to be changed and when they are changed I ensure to follow safety protocols in handling gas cylinders. I also keep track of when they are changed so that I have a record of when they were last replaced which helps to determine the next time they are to be replaced. I frequently send orders and request quotations for items in the lab and ensure that the lab space is tidy and that the tools are where they belong. When the test stations have a problem, the other researchers and I, collaborate to resolve the issue. 

Experiment Tasks

The most common task I complete day-to-day is setting up cell fixtures, which consists of precisely cutting gas diffusion layers that are placed inside the cell fixtures to speed up the reactions during the test. Another task is to connect the gas tubings, thermocouples, heaters, load bank wires, and potentiostat cables for diagnostics. But before connecting all the wires, we need to test if there is a gas leak with the cell fixture by connecting the inlet and outlet tubings first and flowing some nitrogen and hydrogen. Then we use a leak detection liquid compound to test for leaks in the tube connections and a sniffer device that detects combustible gases like hydrogen near the connections. Once these leak tests are completed, the scripts can be loaded, and the cell can be conditioned and tested through the scripts and the automated station. After the experiment is finished, the researchers or I will analyze the diagnostics. The potentiostat helps run diagnostics and consists of cyclic voltammetry, polarization curve, electrochemical leak detection test, linear sweep voltammetry, and electrochemical impedance spectroscopy. These diagnostics can help us determine whether the cell has met the failure criteria and if the membrane has deteriorated. 

Reflection & Tips

This co-op has been filled with rewarding experiences that allowed me to gain and develop my skills as a research assistant. I enjoyed being able to have hands-on experience working in a laboratory by assembling and operating the test stations to run experiments. Throughout the work terms, I have gained a great deal of knowledge about fuel cells and acquired both hard and soft skills. Something I wish I had done sooner was asking more questions about the research projects when the researchers were giving an orientation about their experiments and taking more initiative to ask researchers if I could help them with additional work, such as analyzing the data or creating data plots. Overall, it was a fulfilling experience collaborating with other researchers and working on various projects in the field of fuel cell technology.

Advice for Future Students

I encourage students interested in graduate research to consider applying for research co-ops, as they provide valuable exposure and perspective to working in a research setting during an undergraduate career. This experience can be helpful when deciding whether you would like to pursue research after graduating. For those considering this position, I recommend future research assistants keep a notebook or an online document to record important notes. Additionally, using a task tracker can help you stay organized and on track with lab activities. My biggest advice is to not hesitate to ask questions about topics you're curious or confused about. Clear communication and seeking clarification are essential for a successful and rewarding research experience.


Relena Wong

SFU Student Undergraduate
Applied Sciences › Sustainable Energy Engineering
visibility  101
Apr 30, 2024

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