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Energy Spotlight: Tuheen Manika, Undergraduate student in Chemical Engineering

28 October 2019

We’re back from a summer hiatus!

This interview series shines a spotlight on energy-focused members of the Stanford community – students, faculty, staff and alumni - and traces their foray into the field of energy, their journey so far and what they have planned for the future. By highlighting the incredibly diverse range of ongoing energy-oriented work at Stanford, the series hopes to spur conversations and forge connections within campus and beyond.

My interviewee this time around is Tuheen Murali Manika, who is an undergraduate student in Chemical Engineering at Stanford.

R: Tell me about your background – what spurred your interest in energy, and how did you get started?

T: To be honest, it’s so difficult to distill my interest in energy down to any single experience. Growing up, I learned the importance of climate change early on. My mother is a pre-school teacher and we would often read together, and I remember being quite confused when we read a science book that had a cartoon of the earth sweating. She then took the time to explain what global warming is, and that was the first time I learned about it. I got more interested in the science of warming as I grew up, and slowly realized the magnitude of the problem. I am driven by the need to address this crucial problem, and energy is one of the largest contributors towards climate change. It is such a vast sector, with technology, policy, economics and law all wrapped up in this one field. This makes it a very exciting field to be a part of! This also led me to be a part of the Energy Club at Stanford straight off the bat as a freshman.

R: How would you broadly describe your academic trajectory at Stanford?

T: I am currently a chemical engineering major. I came into Stanford not really knowing what chemical engineering is, and I was excited to discover that chemical engineering departments do a lot of work on renewable forms of energy. Taking a few introductory classes at Stanford, I found it intriguing that a lot of chemical engineering involves systems-level thinking, especially in understanding linear versus closed-loop systems. Chemistry is also a very powerful tool for a lot of applications in energy – solar, energy storage, carbon capture and so on. All these technologies interest me, so I’m hoping that I can continue to learn about them through this major.

I have also tried to understand what doing research at a university is like. Last summer, I worked under PhD student David Mackanic in Professor Zhenan Bao’s lab on flexible and stretchable Lithium-ion batteries and had a really good experience. I am definitely considering going back into research in some capacity for a deep dive into some of these technologies, but I don’t exactly know how or when I will do that yet.

R: What Stanford communities are you involved with?

T: I am an officer in the Stanford Energy Club. Before undergraduate students start at Stanford, we get the opportunity to visit campus during admit weekend. During that weekend, I got to know about the Energy Club through a freshman in the dorm I stayed at. I applied to be an officer when I eventually got to campus as a freshman myself, and got placed into the Digital and Brand team. As VP of Digital and Brand, I was involved with marketing and advertising events like E360 and Stanford Energy Week, and also working on the club’s website. I got to meet with people at energy-focused centers on campus, like the Precourt Institute and the Tomkat Center. Serving on the Executive Board of the club was also a great experience in terms of figuring out how teams can effectively work on projects together. It was quite challenging to stay on top of things and to make sure the tasks I was responsible for got done on time. I think I developed some critical time management skills along the way!

The Energy Club also has a Projects team, and I worked on the Carbon Pricing project in the Projects team for two quarters, where a graduate student Shannon Wojcik was looking to study how we could price emissions from graduate dorms on campus as a way to incentivize students to minimize their emissions. Another student, Andrew Nolff, took her place when she graduated and tried to implement the program in the Munger dorms. Using rough estimates of water and energy consumption in different buildings, we created an approximate count of emissions. I found it super fun to collaborate with other students on a real project!

Another great organization I am involved with is Students for Sustainable Stanford. They focus on issues of awareness as well as initiatives to make the campus more sustainable.

R: What is your favorite aspect about your time at Stanford so far?

T: One aspect of my time here that I’ve enjoyed a lot is meeting people. I get excited about just talking to people and enjoy having my assumptions and ideas challenged during conversations.

R: What’s next for you?

T: I want to continue exploring the energy sector and see myself working in this sector in the near future. Part of that is more coursework, part of that is getting more involved with research. I set aside a few minutes each day to think about what I could learn during my time here and what my career could look like. I am unsure whether private, public or nonprofit sector positions would be the right pathway for me, so I’m trying to speak with as many people as possible to figure that out.

R: What do you see as the next horizon in the field of energy?

T: From my current understanding, I think energy storage is one of the frontiers in this field. With the global expansion of wind and solar deployment, it seems like large-scale grid storage is quickly becoming a necessity. I’m also curious about the role that carbon capture and sequestration would play in the future. There seems to be a growing number of companies in this space. For instance, I was recently reading about Carbon Engineering, which is a Canadian company that works on capturing carbon dioxide from the air.

R: What things in the field of energy are still a mystery to you?

T: The question I ask myself a lot is: what will the composition of energy sources on our planet look like in 2050? Reading articles from even 20 years ago, it’s incredible how their predictions completely missed the evolution in the clean tech sector as we see it today.

R: Which two organizations outside your own do you know the most people at and why?

T: Through the Stanford Energy Club, I was able to work with and meet many people from the Precourt Institute for Energy. I have also been able to meet some really amazing people through volunteering as a summer camp counselor at Camp Kesem Stanford.

R: Teach me something I don’t know in the next few minutes.

T: A couple years ago, I read about a phenomenon called noctilucent clouds. Noctilucent clouds are a special type of cloud that forms in the earth’s upper atmosphere gives off a bright, bluish glow. They usually form near the polar regions, and typically appear before dawn or after dusk—times when the upper atmosphere is able to catch some sunlight, and when the rest of the atmosphere is dark.

Noctilucent clouds require extremely low temperatures to form, which explains why they only appear at very specific locations of the earth’s atmosphere. Their increased occurrence over the last few decades has been linked to a changing atmosphere. While the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases has been heating the earth’s surface and lower atmosphere, it has also been significantly cooling the upper atmosphere, including the regions where noctilucent clouds are usually found. Studies on noctilucent clouds have also helped reveal new patterns in atmospheric circulation, and ways in which the atmosphere responds to climate change—phenomenon that I don’t fully understand but find incredibly fascinating.

R: What’s one interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your resume?

T: I can spend hours on Google Earth virtually traveling to different locations around the world. It’s the perfect way to procrastinate on p-sets!

Also, my name means snow. But I grew up in Southern California, and I only saw snow for the first time when I was thirteen! Sometime in the future, I’d love to live in a place that has a real cold season.

R: What advice would you give your younger self?

T: I actually have a ton of advice for my younger self! I’ve learned a lot about the power of perspective during my time at Stanford. One thing I would tell my younger self is – don’t feel the pressure to seek the perfect opportunity because there never will be one. Focus instead on the kind of perspective and attitude you can bring to any opportunity that you are given, so you can make the most of what that opportunity can truly offer you. In other words, focus less on the specifics of what you do and more on how you do it. That can really take the pressure off!

R: How might interested people get in touch with you?

T: I’m very happy to speak with anyone! I can be reached at tmanika@stanford.edu.

If you are you interested in discussing your energy work at Stanford, recommending interviewees for this series or connecting with energy-focused people on campus, get in touch at ranjshiv[at]stanford[dot]edu.

Ranjitha Shivaram is a PhD student at Stanford University in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources

Photo credit: Gustavo Costa (https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-playing-piano-1771304/)