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Ramesh Adhikari aims for flexible, organic, and biodegradable

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Ramesh Adhikari aims for flexible, organic, and biodegradable

James Targos at the probe station looking at conductive channels created inside the leaf.

James Targos at the probe station looking at conductive channels created inside the leaf.

GABRIELLE MORGAN

James Targos at the probe station looking at conductive channels created inside the leaf.

GABRIELLE MORGAN

GABRIELLE MORGAN

James Targos at the probe station looking at conductive channels created inside the leaf.

Gabrielle Morgan, Staff Writer

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Jacksonville, Fla.–Electronic-waste is an alarming problem in America. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, this form of waste accounts for  70 percent of toxic waste.

Ramesh Adhikari, assistant professor of physics, has been conducting research with his team to address this growing problem. Flexible, organic, and biodegradable are three words Adhikari lives by.

“The focus is on sustainable electronics because people are buying and discarding more electronics than ever before,” said Adhikari. “The question I wanted to answer was, what can we do about this growing problem? If we lower our electronic waste output by developing biodegradable electronics, then we would be able to minimize the impact on the environment even when those electronics are discarded.”

Adhikari joined JU in 2016. Currently, he is leading three research projects focusing on biodegradable and sustainable electronic components.

“After coming here, I took a semester to decide on what kind of research can be carried out based on resources available in a primarily undergraduate institution such as JU,” said Adhikari. “Once I had ideas about the projects that are feasible, I began recruiting students.”

Adhikari has a variety of projects being funded by different organizations and initiatives. For instance, the plant-based electronics project is being funded by a grant from the Eppley Foundation. The protein-based micro rods project is funded by EPIC and the triboelectric nanogenerators, or TENG, project is being financed by a faculty research grant.

Adhikari’s research team consists of JU students Jack Terrell, James Targos, Blessing Akintunde, and Courtney Purcell.

“One of the projects that we are working on is on the development of plant-based electronic devices. We have been able to inject conducting polymers into the channels within plant leaves and construct conducting paths inside the leaves,” said Adhikari. “You can think of it as constructing wires inside the leaves.”

Each of the projects is unique. With the protein-based microscopic rods, Adhikari and his team are investigating the electrical properties of these materials to determine its possible applications in bioelectronics.

On the other hand, the TENG project is considerably different from the first two initiatives.

“The third project that we are involved in consists on developing paper-based TENGs which can generate electricity from rubbing paper surfaces,” said Adhikari. “It turns out that the design of the device is crucial to optimize the power generated. We are also interested in fabric-based TENGs. Imagine the fabric you wear producing electricity as you swing your hands while taking a walk!”

James Targos, freshman physics major, believes that working on the plant-based electronics project contributes to their professional development.

“I like working in the lab and it’s a good experience. Once the study gets bigger, we could possibly improve a lot of things surrounding electronic parts being discarded in landfills,” said Targos. “It is pretty cool how we have figured out how to make electricity conduct through plants.”

The students working on the research projects are aware of the importance of participating in undergraduate research. Courtney Purcell, a junior physics and mechanical engineering major, is intrigued by the TENG project she is currently working on.

“It is fascinating to be able to create power out of something we use every day, and this could be very useful in the years to come regarding the environment,” said Purcell.

For Purcell, participating in the TENG project has contributed to her future career aspirations.

“After graduation, I may aim towards a national lab where I may explore more on the physics side of things rather than Mechanical engineering,” said Purcell. “Participating in this undergraduate research has been very helpful in that aspect.”

Research expenditure in small liberal arts institutions is low compared to larger research institutes. For Adhikari, the lack of resources has not slowed him down even if there are unavoidable limitations.

“Research in science has become so diverse that you can most likely find something within your interests with the resources you do have,” said Adhikari. “The limitation of access to resources can be challenging, but you do not always need expensive equipment if you become creative enough.”

Adhikari believes that students participating in these projects are gaining invaluable knowledge.

“By getting this hands-on experience, they are learning how to conduct independent experiments. These students are getting a head start for their professional career and that will make a difference.”

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Ramesh Adhikari aims for flexible, organic, and biodegradable