Jenna Bevacqua is shedding light on the challenge of making lithium-ion batteries last longer.

This 18-year-old was part of her Burnaby, B.C., high school’s team at Students on the Beamline, using particle accelerator energy to understand the impact of extreme heat on battery life.

This piece is part of a series of profiles highlighting young people across the country who are addressing the climate crisis. These extraordinary humans give me hope. I write these stories to pay it forward.

Jenna Bevacqua at school with her students on the Beamline team. From left: Joe Muise, Sydney Christiansen, Jenna Bevacqua, Hannah van Spaendonk, Cameron DeWith, Sophia Wong, Eric Zhang, Angelina Chen, William Kong, Monika Wasaznik, Joshua Largo and Brandon De Lazzari. Photo courtesy of STMC yearbook team

Tell us about your project.

The Canadian Light Source (CLS) is a national research facility at the University of Saskatchewan. The CLS produces very bright light in X-ray and infrared ranges by accelerating electrons to very high speeds. The light produced is used to explore the microscopic nature of matter, and serves national and international users from academia, industry and government institutions.

High-level research is the focus of scientists, but the CLS outreach program brings together students, teachers and renowned scientists in a program called Students on the Beamline. Students design Beamline research projects and those who can engage their communities in the process of science and who might add to scientific knowledge are selected.

We spent almost a year understanding how lithium-ion batteries work so we could set up experiments to see what kinds of conditions extend and degrade their lifespans. Our hypothesis was that existing battery design results in reduced lifespans in extreme weather. Our team placed batteries into the Beamline and subjected them to a range of temperatures and cycles, which allowed us to measure extremely precise levels of degradation associated with variable ambient temperature in selected metals in these batteries.

Jenna Bevacqua collecting and analyzing incoming data from the CLS Light Source. Photo by Joe Muise

Why does this matter?

Jenna Bevacqua is shedding light on the challenge of making lithium-ion batteries last longer. #YouthClimateAction #StudentsOnTheBeamline

Lithium-ion batteries are a critically important source of relatively clean energy for so much of the electricity we need if we are to phase out fossil fuels. If their lifetime can be extended, we will need to mine less metals, reducing the waste and improving access by lowering the overall cost. Scientists around the world are working to make better batteries. Our research is an effort to contribute to that knowledge. It will be presented to battery manufacturers and scientists who have indicated strong interest in our results.

How did the research get started?

My high school, St. Thomas More Collegiate, offers a chance to join its Students on the Beamline team as an extracurricular activity. One of our team members, Eric Zhang, had been interested in battery research for a while and he suggested we learn more about how they worked and how they degrade over time. All 11 of us agreed we wanted to have a project that made a difference and we shared concerns about how fast our phone batteries died — particularly in very hot or cold weather. We are also all committed to working on climate justice, so it was a good choice. Over the year, we each spent well over 100 hours doing research online, interviewing experts, developing hypotheses and learning about data analysis.

What drew you to this project?

I have always been attracted to science, and in Grade 8, I joined my school’s Green Team. Since then, I have known I wanted to work in both science and climate change.

What other interests do you have?

As my school’s Grade 12 Green Team leader this year, I organized 60 students to pick up over 50 pounds of garbage. I joined Ocean Wise Canada’s YouthToSea program and founded Stones 4 Seas, working with kindergarten and Grade 2 students to paint and sell rocks to raise money for Renfrew-Collingwood Food Justice, a local community garden focused on regeneration of native plant species and food security. I ran my first half-marathon last year and am hooked.

Jenna Bevacqua returning bottles from her school with her Green Team during a bottle drive she hosted. From left: Sofia Warick, Jenna, Hannah van Spaendonk, Kevin Nicklin and Madison De Asis. Photo courtesy of Jenna Bevacqua

What keeps you awake at night?

If I think about the vast set of problems that must be solved before we can stabilize our climate or even produce better batteries, it can be truly overwhelming. But just as a marathon is a set of steps, each one of which really counts, these issues are all about each of us taking the next step. I look around and see so many people stepping up and I feel hopeful.

How did the way you were raised impact you?

My parents and my sisters have always been there for me, cheering me on. They encouraged my big ideas and my “can do” attitude and this has given me the confidence to try new things. Before I joined Students on the Beamline, I knew nothing about batteries. But my parents have always believed in my capacity to learn, so I jumped in.

My grandparents farmed in the Prairies and I have a dream to have my own regenerative farm. The first step is to study agriculture, so that is what I am going to try next.

Do you have any advice for other young people?

Your big ideas matter, so do your small steps. This combination is how change happens. Shoot for the moon. If you miss, you might land on a star.

What about older readers?

Don’t waste energy or time regretting things in the past. Help someone now so we can move together into a brighter future.

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