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School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science

Toshan Wickramanayake

Toshan Wickramanayake is studying for a PhD in Electronic Engineering at Queen Mary and is a member of the Antennas and Electromagnetics Research Group. Toshan's project investigates the feasibility of using magnetic field intensity measurements to characterise electrochemical ageing processes that occur in lithium-ion batteries during their operation.  

What made you want to study for a PhD? 

 As many others of my generation, I feel quite concerned about the ongoing climate crisis and feel a need to contribute in some way. During my undergraduate degree in electronic engineering, I learned about the different devices and technologies that are critical to the transition to a renewable energy-based future. Of these different technologies, energy storage devices, and batteries in particular, seemed particularly important to me. 

 I got a chance to learn more about batteries during my master's degree and particularly through my master's project. The structure and operation of these little devices were fascinating, and I thought it would be interesting to learn more about them. So, I decided to look around for PhD opportunities on Lithium-ion batteries and found a great opportunity at Queen Mary. It’s been a great journey so far and I’m pretty sure I want to continue as a researcher in this field once I finish my PhD. 

How would you describe the PhD community within EECS? 

Welcoming, brilliant and fun. I have really enjoyed my time as a PhD student at EECS. All my colleagues are really friendly and extremely talented. I can't count how many times I have had help from colleagues to improve my research or just to discuss ideas. We also have plenty of social events and fun, so it’s a great research group to be a part of. 

What challenges have you encountered during your PhD? 

A PhD is a unique degree program, in that you embark on a journey of investigating a specific subject to the very limits of what has been scientifically explored so far. So, there are moments when you feel lost and unsure about your work and where your project is heading.

Personally, I found my first year pretty tough, as I felt I wasn’t really doing much science or engineering. I spent a lot of time reading published research and textbooks, trying to figure out how to progress with my project. There were times when you read others' research and think, will I ever be able to produce something like this? But likewise, there are the really rewarding moments, when one of your experiments works and you feel a huge sense of achievement.

What's been your most rewarding research experience so far? 

So, the first year and a half of my PhD was dedicated to building a custom-built modelling algorithm of a lithium-ion battery. The model is called the partial two-dimensional model and is based on fundamental physics occurring inside a battery. The model is complex and difficult to implement in practical applications. So, building an algorithm to implement this model and to solve it accurately and quickly was quite an incredible experience.  

I got a chance to present this work at an international conference in Venice, Italy and that was really cool. That was probably my favourite and most rewarding experience so far. We have also submitted our work to a highly ranked journal and are hoping to get some positive feedback, fingers crossed! 

Any advice for anyone considering PhD study?  

I would say, the first thing is to carefully consider your subject area. A PhD program is a marathon, and you will have moments when you’re wondering why you’re doing this. For me, my passion for the technology I am working on is a huge motivating factor. I truly feel like energy storage devices are essential for the future we want, so it feels like the effort I put in is worth it. 

Second, consider the group and supervisor you’re going to work with. Have a look at your supervisors' publications and their expertise. Does it tally with the subject area you want to do a PhD in? Your supervisor, especially early on in your PhD, is going to be a huge guide to focus your energy and attention on the important things. For me, my supervisor really helped me stay on track and has definitely guided me to a point where I can be very productive.  

Finally, on a personal level, think about what a PhD will add to you as a person and as a professional. If you’re doing it mainly to add to your CV, I think it's probably not a good idea to do it. It’s a very challenging degree, so I think if you choose to do it, you need to have a reason other than just the clear professional benefits. For me it was my passion for the technology I am working on, for others, it could be another reason. But whatever it is, I think you need more than the one. 

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