Janna (Eaves) Rathert is a ’15 MatSE alumna who is now a staff scientist at Form Energy, Inc., which aims to develop a new class of cost-efficient, multi-day energy storage systems that’s pioneering cost-efficient storage systems that will enable reliable and fully-renewable electric grids. Let’s catch up with this stand-out alum in a Q&A.
Janna (Eaves) Rathert is a ’15 MatSE alumna who is now a staff scientist at Form Energy, Inc., which aims to develop a new class of cost-efficient, multi-day energy storage systems that’s pioneering cost-efficient storage systems that will enable reliable and fully-renewable electric grids. Rathert also holds a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. Here she studied various advanced battery technologies and used electrochemistry to tune the optical properties of materials.
Let’s catch up with this stand-out alum in a Q&A.
Q: What’s day-to-day life like as a staff scientist at Form Energy, Inc.?
A: “I work with a forward-thinking team of scientists and engineers to improve the operation and scalability of our rechargeable iron-air battery. By using iron, one of the most abundant and cheap materials on earth, we hope to enable a 100 percent renewable electric grid.”
Q: How does your work impact our everyday life?
A: “Everyone at Form Energy is passionate about developing energy storage for a better world. In order to power the world with more clean energy sources, we need a solution to store intermittent renewable energy over multiple days. Form Energy is developing a new class of cost-effective, multi-day energy storage systems that will enable a reliable, secure and fully renewable electric grid year-round.”
Q: What drew you to materials science and engineering?
A: “I've been concerned about environmental sustainability for as long as I can remember. When it came time to decide what role I wanted to play in society, I knew I had to do something proactive for the environment. Materials science and engineering seemed to offer the most opportunity to participate in the development of sustainable technologies, like photovoltaics and energy storage.”
Q: What made you choose Illinois?
A: “UIUC’s reputation for excellence in engineering is hard to ignore. I was honored to be accepted at all. It was an easy decision.”
Q: What research did you conduct at Illinois?
A: “Surprisingly, I did very little research while at Illinois. I spent more time with student organizations like Material Advantage, and on project teams like Solar Decathlon. Instead of working in labs over the summer, I did internships at Boeing and SpaceX. Immediately after graduating, I began working at a battery startup called Xerion Advanced Battery Company, where I developed professional working habits and solidified my commitment to energy storage. These qualities helped smooth my transition into grad school when I finally decided to pursue a Ph.D. two years later.”
Q: What makes MatSE the coolest major?
A: “Materials science is at the heart of every major technological advancement in the history of mankind. We literally define periods of history by material, like the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, etc. It doesn't get cooler than that.”
Q: How did your time at Illinois prepare you for your career?
A: “MatSE at Illinois had an incredibly comprehensive curriculum taught by world-class professors. Seven years later, I continue to refer back to my notes and textbooks, occasionally finding gems from professor Waltraud Kriven’s class like, ‘The best way to estimate the porosity of a material is to lick it.’
“Beyond classes, there were plenty of opportunities to get involved in research, student organizations or project teams to find your path and build your resume. Most importantly, the massive engineering career fair helped me land a few summer internships, where I gained valuable work experience and lifelong friends.”
Q: What are some of your fondest memories from Illinois?
A: “Some of my fondest memories are late nights in the Society of Women Engineers at Illinois office or MatSE computer lab with friends, the smell of clay in the Ceramics basement, MatSE happy hours at Murphy's Pub, Material Advantage bar crawls and spending all my money at Cravings Restaurant.”
Q: What advice do you have for incoming MatSE students?
A: “Hydrate with water, get plenty of sleep and be kind.”
Q: What wisdom can you impart on current MatSE students?
A: “You’ll hear a lot of talk about networking. Networking is just like making friends. In the words of the late Dale Carnegie (an American writer), ‘You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.’”