Research abroad provides new opportunities for graduate student

“My goal has always been, however unrealistic it sometimes seemed, to get assigned overseas for work, preferably in Europe. My first choice would be academia, it turns out this may happen,” John Ostrander, Ph.D. candidate in chemistry stated.

Ostrander recently returned from a study abroad to Norway where he spent the semester working on his research. In addition to his semester in Norway, Ostrander has spent time in Germany while in the army. Since starting at TU, he has also visited Italy and Japan.

“My research involves … improving and developing new technologies for battery production, specifically for smaller electronics (such as cell phones, portable computers and medical implant devices) which are mostly based on lithium ion technology,” Ostrander explained.

Ostrander explained that lithium ion batteries are secondary batteries (rechargeable over and over again), and while the technology has worked really well since Sony introduced it around 1991, our electronics and gadgets have developed faster than batteries have. This is why we have seen more explosions, fires and other failures of electronic devices in the news over the past couple of years.

“My research is looking at new materials for use as electrolytes in batteries,” Ostrander said. “Batteries right now have a liquid electrolyte, which is partly why they are combustible — they heat up, produce vapors and the vapors ignite sometimes. Dr. Teeters, my adviser, has been working on replacing liquid electrolytes with a solid material that won’t have these problems.”

Ostrander said the problem with solid electrolytes is that they haven’t found one yet that works well enough to replace the liquid electrolytes. Ostrander has researched polymer electrolytes, ceramic electrolytes and combinations of these as he works on his dissertation.

“This is a huge topic in the world right now because society needs a better battery, especially one that won’t catch fire when using it,” he said.

Ostrander is a nontraditional student. After completing his undergrad, he worked for almost 20 years before starting his graduate program at The University of Tulsa. He taught high school in the Tulsa area, as well as at Tulsa Community College as an adjunct faculty member. He began at TU by taking advantage of the Educator Tuition Scholarship, a tuition discount available for Oklahoma teachers.

“I love chemistry,” he said. “I started out as a physics major in college, with a chemistry minor and found I enjoyed chemistry more, so I switched. I still love physics and math, but I like chemistry more. But, as one advances more in school and in research, we often see how the sciences come together.”

Ostrander said his research over the years included math, physics and areas he never touched upon much in school. Having the opportunity to learn through hands-on research has allowed him to learn more than he would have from classes alone.

In some ways being a nontraditional student has made many things easier for Ostrander. His children are in college and independent, which makes his dream of working overseas more manageable.

“Over the years I have worked alongside people from all around the globe,” he said. “I’m open to any interesting and challenging positions. If moving abroad doesn’t work for some reason, I’m interested in several cities and companies in the United States.”

Ostrander said he is excited to see what his next step will be, although he will miss the friends he has made at T — faculty, students, and staff.