In 2017, a young student from India embarked on a journey to China with dreams and ambitions. His sole purpose was to earn a doctorate and satiate his curiosity. Here is a glimpse of his journey…
As I sit down to write about the path that earned me the "Excellent International Graduate Award," my mind is flooded with memories, anecdotes, and joy. I can write an entire book on this topic. During my Ph.D., I went through a series of ups and downs, but thanks to the constant support I received from research group at the Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics (DICP) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the destination was worth it all. I am Pratteek Das from India. I obtained my doctorate from DICP by working on the two-dimensional materials for microsupercapacitors, and here I write about my journey from being a curious student to becoming a true researcher.
Pratteek Das and Prof. WU Zhong-Shuai
The First Step
Right after I joined DICP, Prof. WU Zhong-Shuai was ready with a plan for me to kick start my PhD research. Based on my previous experience and the goals of our research group, he suggested conducting a thorough literature review of two-dimensional materials and their heterostructures for applications in energy storage. The suggestion was not just meant to facilitate reading, but also to solidify knowledge via writing a review paper. The literature review was like a vortex that pushed me deeper into this research area. Before I realized it, I had written a 90-page review paper containing 20 figures. It took me roughly to 4-5 months to compile it, but it was worth it as my outlook on this topic grew immensely during this time. This was my first ever publication, and I hold it as a badge of honor to this day.
While my bachelor's and master's degrees were in physics, my prior research experience was related to operating diffractometers, which involved working with machines. As a result, I had never worked with chemicals. It was Prof. WU who encouraged me and assigned me a partner to help start my journey of working with chemicals. Safety is the primary concern of the DICP. With all the safety checks in place, I never had an accident or felt unsafe at any point.
The Work Environment
At the DICP, with well-implemented safety care, the environment fosters creative research. While the competition was intense, the atmosphere in the my research group remained supportive and nontoxic. Whenever I needed assistance, my lab mates readily offered help with smooth communication in relatively fluent English, which enhanced my cooperation. Our labs are resonated with laughter, lively discussions, and thoughtful conversations, painting a vivid picture of young researchers driven by aspirations for greatness, brimming with knowledge, and joyfully exploring their curiosities.
DICP's rapid research pace is facilitated by its self-sufficiency, providing all the necessary equipment for characterization and device testing. Thanks to the efficient management of advanced tools like SEM, TEM, XRD, Raman, FTIR, AFM, and more, I completed the bulk of my research by the end of 2019, before my return to India in 2020. Despite the pandemic preventing my return to China, the ample experimental data allowed me to publish my papers and continue my research journey.
A Principle for Innovative Research Work
In this supportive environment, my creativity flourished, guided by the principle of innovation over optimization. My research topics involving the gel-phase exfoliation synthesis of graphene and substrate-free shapeless supercapacitors aimed to unveil novel ideas as well as previously unreported mechanisms. My thorough literature survey ensured the uniqueness of my ideas. If similar ideas existed in the Web of Science, I abandoned them. As the saying goes, "Never fall in love with your research idea". Curiosity led me to explore uncharted territories, such as exfoliating graphene in a gel electrolyte with compression, to delay fragmentation and enhance the energy storage properties. Discovering something new, based on a simple idea, was exhilarating. Prof. WU's constant encouragement and valuable input played a crucial role in refining and publishing my work, making the journey truly rewarding.
Everyone Comes to the Rescue
Any story about my PhD will be incomplete without mentioning the dreaded COVID situation. Even during this dismal period, Professor WU tried his best to keep the momentum going. He assigned me the task of writing an in-depth review paper, helped revise my colleagues' papers and even looked for other research institutes outside China and India to continue my experimental work. I received great support from Prof. WU as well as the entire group. While one of my seniors helped me conduct the experiments with additional data required for publication, another senior translated my entire patent filing application into Chinese to meet the minimum requirements for graduation. Several colleagues helped me with scholarship applications, and it is thanks to such immense support that I was able to win two other awards during my PhD, namely the Excellent International Graduate award and DICP-Shimadzu Enterprise Scholarship.
The Real Journey has Just Started
It is now July of 2023 and I am back at the DICP as a post-doctoral researcher, brimming with new ideas that I cannot wait to experiment with. Dalian is beautiful at this time of the year, and the DICP incorporates the spirit of Dalian, the spirit of never giving up, the spirit of keeping the head high and marching forward, and the spirit of fostering creativity.
Thank you for taking this walk with me.
A Word from Prof. WU Zhong-Shuai
I proudly celebrate the outstanding achievement of my PhD student, Dr. Pratteek Das, who received the prestigious Excellent International Graduate Award for his remarkable research in 2D materials for energy storage. Pratteek’s unwavering enthusiasm and exceptional work ethic impressed me right from the day he began his doctoral journey under my mentorship. His ability to transform simple ideas into intriguing research topics reflects his astute and analytical mind. Through dedication and hard work, he has developed innovative methods for exfoliating graphene in a gel electrolyte and creating substrate-free microsupercapacitors, which has led to new discoveries and numerous publications in high-tier SCI journals.
Beyond academics, Pratteek's eagerness to learn and embrace Chinese culture helped him create strong connections with his colleagues, creating a positive atmosphere in our laboratory. His excellent English skills and logical presentations have been valuable in assisting others with manuscript revisions. At the DICP, we embrace an inclusive culture, treat foreign students like family, and our research group cherishes the opportunity to learn from their international peers. This dynamic work environment, along with sports and extra-curricular activities, encourages high-quality research and personal growth.
The Excellent International Graduate Award rightfully recognizes Pratteek's exceptional research capabilities and commitment to academic excellence, bringing immense pride to his family and honor to our institution. His achievements showcase the transformative powers of intellect, perseverance, and passion. I am confident that his future endeavors will continue to push the boundaries of knowledge and make a profound impact on his field, inspiring young researchers to reach incredible heights through dedication and a burning desire to make a difference.