PhD Profiles: Azra Sourjah

In our PhD Profiles series, we speak to PhD student Azra Sourjah – our 2022 Three-Minute Thesis IFM winner.


Area of research: Material Science (Developing new solid electrolytes for batteries and other energy applications)

Joined IFM: 2020

Career Highlights:

  • Graduated as a Chemist of the Year in 2016
  • Delivered a talk  at the ASIL conference at RMIT in 2022
  • Attended the RACI conference in Brisbane and won the RACI 2022 National Congress Poster Prize for the best poster presentation in the energy sector.
  • Participated in the Three-Minute Thesis competition and won first place at IFM and competing in Deakin Finals
  • Invited to deliver a presentation at a research symposium organised by the Tennessee Association of Department Chairs USA in 2021.



Why did you decide to join IFM?

I decided to choose IFM because of the availability of modern characterisation instruments and lab equipment. Also, it has the best supervisors and world-class facilities.


Azra presenting at the IFM Annual Conference.

What makes you passionate about your research?

It’s time for us to move on from these toxic, flammable organic electrolytes currently used in batteries. Therefore, I see these ‘Ionic liquids (ILs) and Organic ionic plastic crystals (OIPCs)’ as a better substitute for battery electrolytes and energy applications with good properties to move towards a greener and sustainable future.


What motivates you in your research?

Synthesising new materials (material development) is challenging, with lots of learning involved almost every day – I have so much curiosity! This motivates me and drives me forward to be a good researcher. The area that I work on is one of the most highly demanded topics in the world. Filling in the gaps in this field would take us one step closer towards safer and long-lasting battery technology. I would really be satisfied if I got to be a part of this.


What inspired you to start a career in research?

Since childhood, I have always wanted to become a scientist. I had the curiosity in me to see how things work, what it is made of, and what would be the mechanism behind it and so on. I come from a family where my parents are not involved in science, and my dream was to make them proud of my achievements. This drove me forward to become who I am today.


What are some of the key findings of this research?

The effect and the role played by the oxygen atom in cationic structure in Organic Ionic Plastic Crystals (OIPCs). These properties can be useful to optimise the structure-property relationship to develop OIPCs in the future with enhanced properties (for example, high ionic conductivity, good thermal and electrochemical stability).


Azra with fellow Three-Minute Thesis IFM finalist Henrique Bastos.

Why is your research important, and how can it make a difference?

My PhD work is mainly based on developing new organic ionic plastic crystals. These are an emerging class of solid-state electrolytes with significant advantages over conventional materials used in batteries (such as plasticity, non-flammability, highly disordered solids ).  Recent advances in this evolving new field include next-generation batteries (lithium-metal batteries), dye-sensitised solar cells and sodium-ion batteries. These applications would lead the energy world towards a more sustainable and greener future.


If you weren’t in research – is there another occupation you could see yourself in?

If I weren’t in the field of research, I would have been an entrepreneur.


Describe your ultimate holiday – what would you do and where would you go?

Travelling is my main hobby, and I’d love to go anywhere and everywhere.  But as I am from a tropical country (Sri Lanka), I always love to spend my holidays around beaches. I’d love to visit other tropical countries around the world if I get the chance.


Azra taking part in community outreach at a highschool.

When you are not at work, what are you doing?

Apart from travelling, I spend my leisure time learning how to play the guitar; I will be with my pets (I have two puppies) and watching movies. I also love cooking and trying out different delicious recipes from different cultures.


What advice would you give your younger self?

Life is all about trying out new things and getting out of your comfort zone. Try and develop new skills as much as you could when you’re younger.


Where do you see yourself in five years?

Graduated with a PhD, initially working as a research fellow or postdoc, and moving into a leading industry.


Learn more about how you can reimagine your career with a PhD at IFM, click here.