Keenan Smith


PhD Researcher


Keenan (also lovingly known as ‘Kiki’) joined UCL in 2018, following his dream of becoming a big city boy. When he’s not in the office reading papers (very rare), Keenan loves to travel and explore new cultures – the most recent destination was Disneyland Paris. He also loves to visit Gravesend, especially after a few pints.

After finishing his undergraduate studies in Chemistry at Nottingham, Keenan felt excited about the future prospects of energy devices. This inspired him to begin a PhD at the EIL studying fuel cell materials using in-situ nanoscale characterisation techniques. His PhD career thus far has consisted of falling in love with the AFM and embarrassing himself at the Christmas party.


The membrane electrode assembly is the ‘heart’ of a fuel cell, made up of a proton exchange membrane (PEM) sandwiched between two catalyst layers, allowing hydrogen and oxygen fuels to react forming water and in the process releasing energy that can be harnessed, by a vehicle for example.
Keenan’s research intends to gain greater nanoscale understanding of these two materials.
Through in-situ electrochemical AFM (ECAFM), the pathways of protons, water and fuels through proton exchange membranes can be studied, and degradation mechanisms of electrocatalysts in the harsh operating conditions of a fuel cell can be investigated. With the help of a variety of other characterisation techniques, such as neutron scattering, electron microscopy and conductivity measurements the physical and electrochemical properties can be correlated. The end goal being design of new improved materials based on the structure property relationships revealed.
Alongside these experiments new analysis procedures will be developed, which can be applied to other materials, with a view to study solid state electrolytes and metal-air electrodes in batteries.