Sofia Catalina Envisions a New World of Renewable Energy

When you think of batteries, you may think of malfunctioning smoke alarms or television remotes.


Sofia Catalina, COE’20, sees batteries and envisions a whole new world of renewable energy.


“The broader impacts of battery science are limitless; almost everything around us relies on energy, and to me, energy storage remains the most challenging and interesting issue preventing renewable energy from replacing fossil fuels as our main energy source,” she said recently via email.


Catalina never imagined she would be taking her passion for sustainable renewable energy to Stanford University. “A few years ago, going to graduate school or applying for fellowships was not on my radar at all,” she said.


However, her Northeastern journey changed all that.


“I found through my co-ops and research that I was really passionate about battery science and pursuing a PhD is the best choice for me,” she said.


Catalina is not just pursuing a Ph.D. in Material Sciences and Engineering at Stanford come fall. She is also the recipient of two extremely competitive fellowships: a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP), which provides financial support towards graduate education for students who have the potential to make significant impact in STEM disciplines; and the GEM Fellowship, which supports students from underrepresented communities in their pursuit of graduate education in applied sciences and engineering.


Catalina gained the necessary experience through Northeastern’s commitment to experiential learning, both in on-campus labs and on co-op. She also credits her experiences as an active student leader in Honors as advancing her ability to juggle multiple projects, work collaboratively with peers, and persist in the face of challenges.


“Co-ops at Nuvera Fuel Cells, Form Energy, and Tesla imparted so much knowledge about electrochemical systems as well as confirming my love of lab work and battery science,” she said. “I also have been lucky enough to do undergraduate research for the past two years in Professor Joshua Gallaway’s Analysis of Complex Electrochemical Systems Laboratory, where I research an experimental type of battery called a redox flow battery.”


Her research in the Gallaway Lab formed the basis of her NSF proposal and will guide her graduate studies at Stanford.


“My broader goal is to eliminate the dependence on fossil fuel energy generation by providing adequate energy storage for renewable energy sources,” she said.


It was her second co-op in Spring 2018 which solidified her nascent interest in graduate school.


“I worked at Form Energy as one of their first co-op hires and employees. This was such a fantastic experience, as I got to wear a lot of hats and become deeply involved in my project. Finding a position where you can take on responsibility and ownership made it all the more meaningful, and the research really solidified my decision to go to graduate school,” she said.


Between her three co-ops and her work in the Gallaway Lab, she took advantage of other opportunities unique to Northeastern and the University Honors Program.


“My 2016 [Dialogue of Civilizations on] Climate led by Auroop Ganguly through Northern India was incredibly profound. I made amazing friends and learned so much about climate science and Indian culture,” she said.


The Honors Program gave Catalina the opportunity to expand her perspective through her Honors Interdisciplinary Seminar, Creative Writing Workshop with Prof. Ellen Noonan.


“It was really awesome to take a step back from STEM and do something so far outside of my comfort zone while in such a supporting community,” she said of the seminar, which is one of the most popular seminars in the Honors course rotation.


Before beginning her graduate program in the fall, Catalina will jump right into her GEM Fellowship this summer.


“I will be interning this summer at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington State. While the details are still a bit up in the air due to COVID-19, I am really excited about this opportunity to work at a national lab as this will differ greatly from my previous experiences in academia and industry,” she said.


For her fellow Honors Huskies interested in fellowships and research opportunities, she has simple advice:


“Find something you are passionate about and let that lead you!”