Geek of the Week

Geek of the Week: Univ. of Washington’s Robert Masse plugs into analytics to construct higher batteries

Robert Masse
Robert Masse with his Global Student Entrepreneur Award in Seattle.

Robert Masse confesses that he didn’t always have an aptitude for science and technology, but that over time he’s become inspired by tools which can improve our quality of life.

The Wisconsin native, who is now a graduate student at the University of Washington, is making those tools himself, and people are taking notice. Our latest Geek of the Week recently won the the regional Global Student Entrepreneur Award, in a competition for student entrepreneurs who actively run a business. He was sponsored by the Seattle Entrepreneur Organization.

Masse’s business, Astrolabe Analytics (formerly Cloud Instruments), built a battery analytics platform that enables researchers and engineers to create better, longer lasting and more reliable batteries.

As an undergrad, Masse attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and got involved in research on materials for water-splitting technology — “breaking up water into O2 and H2 for the heretofore unrealized hydrogen economy,” he said.

“During this time, I got started at Pacific Northwest National Lab for two internships where I helped research battery materials. My undergraduate work generated a few papers as well as a patent, and planted a seed that told me I do not want to be an academic forever, I’m more interested in using technology to help create real-world solutions.”

Masse pursued his interest in batteries to the University of Washington, where he now researches materials for magnesium batteries.

“While magnesium has a lot of interesting features compared to lithium, it also has a lot more problems, which is why you throw grad students like me at the problem and see what we come up with,” Masse said.

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Robert Masse:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “I try to find the biggest lever I can pull on to have meaningful impact. Since I believe climate change is likely to be one of the biggest stories of the 21st century, this got me broadly interested in renewable energy tech and research when I was a freshman at Wisconsin. Later in my undergraduate career, this led me toward energy storage and battery tech. As I learned more about this space, it took me from materials research to the more specific data science platform we are currently building.”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “If you believe Elon Musk, we must have 100 Gigafactories churning out batteries to build all the EVs and grid-scale batteries we need to transition away from fossil fuels. This is still an enormous task, but a lot more tractable with this metric.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “I’m a pretty strong introvert, and I get my inspiration mostly from new ideas and ways of thinking about things. I think I am paraphrasing Seth Godin, who said something along the lines of: ‘Books are one of the greatest ROIs on earth because you can spend $15 and an afternoon to give you a new framework for understanding the world.’ I am currently reading Ray Dalio’s, ‘Principles,’ which is a treasure trove of mental strategies he used to build Bridgewater Associates into a multibillion dollar enterprise.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “Fire. Whoever figured fire out was really on to something.”

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “I try to be pretty minimalist. I just need my computer for most of my work, but for planning and thinking, I also like to have a large working area to spread out and organize my to-do’s and other note which I like to have written out by hand.”

Give Robert Masse a laptop and some Kanye West. (Robert Masse Photo)

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “I have also struggled with this. There is always more to do than I can handle in one day. A useful tool that has helped me is the Ivy Lee Method, where you identify the six most important things you need to do and then do them, instead of all the other busy work that can eat up a day.

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Windows.”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Picard.”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Time machine.”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … I would sleep pretty well! It would really put gas on the fire to have that kind of capital to grow our team and iterate on our product faster.

I once waited in line for … “Death Grips.”

Your role models: “Our 46th president Kanye West. His attitude rubs some people the wrong way but he is unafraid to voice his convictions and absorb criticism, which are important skills for life and entrepreneurship. Ryan Holiday has probably had an outsized impact on my thinking, with books that borrow from stoic philosophy like, ‘Ego is the Enemy’ (perhaps ironic given my Kanye affinity) and ‘The Obstacle is the Way.’”

Greatest game in history: “Age of Empires II.”

Best gadget ever: “The astrolabe.”

First computer: “I was about 7 years old when we got our first desktop, which ran Windows 98.”

Current phone: “Last year, I bought a Samsung 7 Edge for $800. If at all possible, I will never spend that much on a phone again.”

Favorite app: “I’ve recently gotten Audible and it’s been great for getting through books at 2-3x my regular reading pace.”

Favorite cause: “I cannot say I have put any amount of effort into specific causes, but the opioid epidemic is certaintly something that needs more attention on the solutions side.”

Most important technology of 2016: “Twitter.”

Most important technology of 2018: “Gotta go with batteries! Hundreds of megawatt-hours of low-cost battery storage will be coming to a grid near you this year.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “Become really clear on what your values are and what you want out of life, because it makes decision making a lot easier. (I’m still working on this!)”

Twitter: @realRobertMasse

LinkedIn: Robert Masse

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