By Patty Pitts
Since 2004, the UVic Speakers Bureau has been a welcome outlet for mechanical engineering PhD student Aimy Bazylak’s enthusiasm about fuel cell research and encouraging girls and young women to consider a career in engineering.
“It’s one of the best outreach venues that I know of, and I like to participate in volunteer activities that make some sort of contribution to society,” says the straight-A student.
Her passion for sharing her research, her outstanding academic record and her commitment to improving the environment recently earned Bazylak the 2007 inaugural Bullitt Environmental Fellowship worth $100,000 US over two years.
“I am very honoured to accept this prestigious fellowship, and I am overwhelmed by the Bullitt Foundation’s commitment to invest in my future,” says Bazylak, whose PhD research with the Institute for Integrated Energy Systems (IESVic) involves studying and controlling the flow of water, one of the by-products of the electrochemical reactions in fuel cells, to achieve higher efficiency.
Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Bazylak has always been keen about math and science. “I have always been interested in engineering, a profession that allows me to combine math and science to design solutions that will make positive impacts on society.”
After earning an engineering physics degree at the University of Saskatchewan, she moved to Victoria in 2003 to study with UVic mechanical engineering professor and Canada Research Chair in Energy Systems Design and Computational Modelling Ned Djilali and his colleague Dave Sinton.
“Aimy seems to do well in anything she does and carries her passion for promoting clean energy into the community through public outreach and volunteer activities,” says Djilali. “In between running experiments in the lab and devising new concepts in the design room, she gives public presentations on sustainable energy to community organizations and participates as a judge in science fairs to encourage middle and high school students.”
Bazylak investigates liquid water transport in a porous layer of the fuel cell, called the gas diffusion layer. Hydrogen and oxygen undergo chemical reactions in the fuel cell that produce electricity, with water and heat as by-products.
chieving a delicate balance of water in the fuel cell is critical for optimal performance. Insufficient water levels may result in membrane dry-out, while excess water may lead to flooded conditions, both of which can lead to shut-down. Understanding how water behaves in the complex porous media of the fuel cell could eventually lead to improved material designs for managing water.
“Fuel cells have the potential to be more efficient than the combustion engine and to last longer than batteries,” says Bazylak.
She doesn’t limit her enthusiasm for alternative energy to her studies. Bazylak is also a member of a team of UVic engineering students (“H2Drive”) who are designing and building a fuel-cell hybrid vehicle to compete in the Shell Eco-Marathon at the California Speedway in Fontana in April (www.me.uvic.ca/~h2drive). The vehicle that uses the least amount of energy over a set distance wins.
Bazylak’s own favoured method of transportation is perhaps the most energy-efficient of all. The student who maintains a perfect 9.0 GPA also runs marathons.
The Seattle-based Bullitt Foundation is a private philanthropic foundation that provides funding to individuals and nonprofit organizations working to safeguard the natural environment by promoting responsible human activities and sustainable communities in the Pacific Northwest. The fellowship was established to honour long-time foundation chair, the late Priscilla “Patsy” Bullitt Collins, who devoted much of her life to working for the public good and donated a multi-million dollar inheritance to various