Researchers Receive $1.7 Million

Michigan Tech researchers have been awarded $1.7 million to develop structural foams that could be used in security applications.

The 15-month, Phase 1 contract was awarded by Raytheon Company as part of a $3.7 million program funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop lightweight, portable barriers that could be used to help protect vulnerable targets and provide safe crowd control.

“We need very strong and lightweight barriers that could be erected quickly at any location and can be removed very quickly, and we can do that with polymer foams,” said principal investigator Ghatu Subhash, a professor of mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics. “They will also be environmentally benign, fire-resistant and pose no health hazards.”

The research is being conducted through Michigan Tech’s Center for Environmentally Benign Functional Materials and its Sustainable Futures Institute. Co-principal investigators on the project are associate professor Gerard Caneba and professor David Shonnard, both of the Department of Chemical Engineering.

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Subhash Receives 2005 Research Award

Professor Ghatu Subhash, who has gained an international reputation for his research in mechanical engineering and materials science, is the recipient of Michigan Tech’s 2005 Research Award.

This makes him one of a handful of MTU faculty to be honored with both the Research Award and the Distinguished Teaching Award, which he received in 1994.

“I am really honored and humbled–this was a bit unexpected,” said Subhash, the associate chair and director of graduate studies of the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics. He credited both the university, his students and his department for supporting him in all facets of the academic mission.

“I have always felt that Michigan Tech is an outstanding educational institution which fosters all aspects of teaching, research and scholarship,” he said. “This is one of the best places in the country to do the all-round activities associated with any aspect of higher education.”

“Plus, the support from my department has been incredible, and from my family too. My family provides the fuel that keeps me going.”

Subhash’s work focuses on understanding the properties of materials at high rates of loading, and he distinguished himself early in his career with the invention of the Dynamic Indentation Hardness Tester. The device is now patented in both the U.S. and Canada and has been licensed by the Army Research Lab at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds and Oak Ridge National Laboratories.

“It measures a material’s resistance to high-speed events, like you’d have in a crash, impact or in machining,” Subhash said.

The hardness tester looks deceptively simple. There’s a long bar with a power source at one end, a point at the other, and a weight in the middle. “It’s more complicated than it seems,” Subhash notes. “It’s like firing a bullet, making it kiss the target and come back.” He was invited to write two ASM International handbook articles based on this research.

Department Chair William Predebon, who nominated Subhash for the Research Award, noted that the hardness tester has attracted interest from a number of corporations and that work is under way to establish ASTM International [formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials] standards for this testing method.

“Professor Subhash has also made breakthroughs in the area of wear,” Predebon said. Until Subhash developed the Instrumented Scratch Tester, there was no good method for measuring how resistant materials are to wear and tear. “The national labs are using it to test materials, both military and civilian,” Subhash said.

G. Ravichandran, a professor of aeronautics and mechanical engineering at Caltech, praised Subhash’s research achievements. “He combines strengths from many different disciplines to attain the necessary breakthroughs which lead to penetrating insights into material behavior.”

As an example, Ravichandran cited Subhash’s brittleness measures, which can determine how susceptible to wear a given material is. “For example, if you have 10 candidates of materials for a given purpose, you can rank them from best to worst,” Subhash explains.

“We are also looking at unlocking the mechanics of wear at the nanoscale with a National Science Foundation grant,” he adds. “Nanostructured materials are superior to large-grain-size materials; they have higher strength and higher resistance to wear.”

Subhash has been exploring another realm on the interface of engineering and science, amorphous metals, also known as metallic glasses. In addition to military applications, amorphous metals could find a role on the golf course. “A club made of metallic glass would have high elastic strains and a high coefficient of restitution,” Subhash says. In other words, for a golfer using a club with a shaft made out of metallic glass, a 300-yard-drive could be no big deal.

In addition, he and his graduate students are working on an analysis tool called crushability-maps to help engineers and designers pick the right density of structural foam. Structural foams are typically used to cushion impacts and may surround a gas tank, cover a dashboard or protect the underside of a military transport vehicle in Baghdad. “It lets the designer select the right foam density for the project,” he says.

M. A. Zikry, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University, calls Subhash’s research on foams “pioneering. ”

“His work in this area has been heavily cited, and these maps are proving to be invaluable to materials designers and computational modelers,” Zikry said in recommending Subhash for the Research Award. “I feel very fortunate to have him as a research colleague.”

In addition to producing top-notch research, Subhash is devoted to teaching and scholarship, according to Predebon. “There are only a few people who can do it all well, and Subhash is one of them,” he said. “He’s an effective and exciting teacher, he’s very active advising and graduating grad students, and he’s active in professional societies. Plus, he’s a terrific mentor for young faculty, and he’s known internationally through his research.

“He’s one of the few people who can do fundamental research and convert it into patent.”
Predebon noted that Subhash is one of the youngest members of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers to be elected to the grade of Fellow, a designation achieved by less than 3 percent of the society’s members.

He agreed with Subhash that the university does provide opportunities for excellence. “I’ve always felt that because Michigan Tech is small, we are more agile and you can make a difference here,” Predebon said. “Ghatu Subhash has definitely made a difference in research and teaching, and I’ve tried to support that.”

Among his other honors, Subhash has received the Society of Automotive Engineers’ Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award and the ASME Student Section Advisor Award and was named an Outstanding New Mechanics Educator by the American Society for Engineering Education in 1996.

He has received over $3.2 million in research funding from industry and government agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the Army Research Office and Oak Ridge National Laboratories and has authored or coauthored more than 60 peer-reviewed journal articles and two handbook articles and co-edited a book, “Deformation, Fracture and Failure of Advanced Materials.” His journal publications have received more than 300 citations.

As the recipient of the Research Award, Subhash will receive $2,500.

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Odegard Earns NASA Grant

A researcher at Michigan Technological University has received a $255,000 grant from NASA. His work in developing computer models for tiny materials could result in stronger, lighter aircraft.

Greg Odegard, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, creates these models to predict the strength of nanomaterials. One nanometer is equal to one-billionth of a meter.

“The materials we use, called nanotubes, are so small that we must rely on computer models to determine their stiffness and strength,” Odegard said. “It is very expensive to do this through experimentation.”

Scientists typically add these small nano-particles to other materials to take advantage of a specific property; for example, strength or resistance to corrosion.

Odegard focuses on polymers–or plastics–that are extremely lightweight, yet can be combined with other materials to add strength.

“These nanotubes are carbon and they are extremely strong,” he said. “They are stronger and stiffer than diamonds.”

Potential benefits of this research include improved structural components of aircraft, such as the outer skin and support structure of wings and the outer surface of the fuselage.

He also is looking at ways to develop advanced materials that can measure and report aircraft damage to the pilot and materials that neutralize the threat of projectile impacts.

Odegard started his computer modeling work four years ago as a scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. He joined the Michigan Tech faculty this past August.

Michigan Tech’s mechanical engineering department is among the largest in the nation, with an undergraduate program ranked in the top 25 in the country by US News.

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Dr. Lyon B. King Wins Presidential Award

Assistant Professor L. Brad King (MEEM) traveled to Washington, DC, this week to accept a 2003 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers at the White House.

King is among 60 faculty members selected from U.S. colleges and universities to receive a Presidential Award, which is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers at the beginning of their careers. The recipients are chosen by the White House from among nominees selected by the top U.S. research agencies, including NASA, the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. King’s name was put forward by the Department of Defense. All nominees have received their PhD degrees within the last five years.

As part of the Presidential Award, King receives a five-year, $500,000 grant to continue his research on very-high-powered ion engines, which could be used for manned Mars missions or ambitious robotic space science missions.

Ion propulsion engines currently rely on xenon gas for fuel. However, xenon’s pricetag-about $3,200 a pound-gives new meaning to the cliche “skyrocketing energy costs.”

King is experimenting with an alternative fuel that could slash the cost of ion propulsion. The white, brittle metal bismuth goes for about $3.60 a pound, is much easier to handle and store, and could reduce the cost of developing a manned mission to Mars by a factor of 200 over conventional xenon engines.

“Not only is bismuth a lot cheaper, it actually works better,” King said. “It’s also easier to use and more efficient. People have known this for a long time, but the technology to implement it hasn’t existed until now.”

The critical system that enables bismuth to be used as a propellant was developed by King at MTU; a patent is pending.

King, a 1989 graduate of Calumet High School, joined the Michigan Tech faculty in 2000. Along with other President Award recipients, he will be honored at an award ceremony Thursday, Sept. 9, and will tour the White House on Friday, Sept. 10.

The White House announced September 9, 2004 the recipients of the 2003 Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the nation’s highest honor for professionals at the outset of their independent research careers. Fifty-seven researchers were honored in a ceremony presided over by John H. Marburger III, Science Advisor to the President and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, established in 1996, honors the most promising beginning researchers in the nation within their fields. Eight federal departments and agencies annually nominate scientists and engineers at the start of their careers whose work shows the greatest promise to benefit the nominating agency’s mission. Participating agencies award these beginning scientists and engineers up to five years of funding to further their research in support of critical government missions.

In addition the 2003 PECASE award, Professor King received the prestigious 2004 NSF CAREER Award. The title of the research is “Electron Fluid Dynamics in a Hall-effect Accelerator”, with a total project value of $602,000. The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a NSF-wide activity that offers the NSF’s most prestigious awards for new faculty members. The Award states that “The CAREER program recognizes and supports the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century.”

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Ion Space Propulsion Lab

L. Brad King (MEEM) has received $185,000 from the United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research for his project, “A Ground-Test Facility for High-Power Electric Thrusters Operating on Condensable Propellants.” This Grant resulted in the design and fabrication of a space- simulation facility used to test electric thrusters for spacecraft. The facility was specifically designed to accommodate thrusters using condensable metal propellants such as bismuth. Apparatus includes a large 2-m x 4-m vacuum vessel evacuated through three 2,000-liter-per-second turbomolecular pumps, a 20-kW DC power supply, a remote translation system, and computer data acquisition center.

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Sustainable Futures Receives $3.6 Million

What kind of program is this?

Engineering graduate students with a social scientist as an advisor? Students spending one semester in extreme northern Michigan and the next just a stone’s throw from the Mississippi delta?

Cajun pasties, anyone?

This cross-country, cross-cultural experience all stems from a new $3.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund the Sustainable Futures IGERT. Michigan Tech and Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, will operate the program beginning this fall.

IGERT stands for Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship. NSF funds IGERT PhD programs in areas that cross traditional academic boundaries, with a goal of increasing the number of US PhDs in engineering, science and mathematics (with particular emphasis on underrepresented students).

Maybe the “E” in IGERT should stand for “eclectic.”

The program takes advantage of Michigan Tech’s leading role in sustainable or “green” engineering and Southern’s expertise in both engineering and public policy, mainly through its Nelson Mandela Institute of Public Policy and Urban Affairs.

“We’re offering graduate students a $30,000 per year stipend,” said John Sutherland, one of the IGERT leaders and Henes Chair Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Michigan Tech. “That’s about double the normal stipend. Students from many different curricula can participate.”

At Michigan Tech, for example, students can participate in projects covering industrial coatings, fuel cells, windmills, space station water reuse and ethanol production from biomass. Participating researchers come from such diverse disciplines as mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, social sciences and civil and environmental engineering.

The first group of students will begin their PhD studies this fall–eight engineering students at Michigan Tech and four public policy students at Southern.

Students will spend the first semester at their host institution, then all 12 will spend the spring semester in Baton Rouge. In the fall of 2005, all of the students will spend a semester at Michigan Tech. All of this will be augmented by distance learning generated by both universities and a required industry internship.

“This approach will create a community of scholars among these 12 students and their faculty mentors,” Sutherland said. “They are expected to take coursework in engineering, environmental science, social sciences, business, and international development and have their research incorporate these disciplines.”

“I’m really excited about this opportunity,” Sutherland said. “It ties in with so many things happening at Michigan Tech, including our new Sustainable Futures Institute. The ‘environment’ is one of the university’s most important thrusts, and the IGERT award recognizes our strength in this area and allows us to expand on our research and education efforts.”

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Professor Mahesh Gupta’s Research Garners NSF Award

Mahesh Gupta’s fledgling enterprise has just received a $100,000 vote of confidence in the form of a Small Business Innovative Research Grant.

A number of federal agencies award SBIR grants, but this is the first from the National Science Foundation to be given to an Upper Peninsula business.

Gupta, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics, started Plastic Flow, LLC, in 2002 to provide consulting services to plastics manufacturers. The firm, located in the Michigan Tech SmartZone, markets Gupta’s PELDOM software, which helps take the guesswork out of making extruded plastic products.

Goods ranging from PVC pipe to garbage bags are extruded. The raw material is forced through a die to form sheets, tubes, etc.

While technical, the process is far from exact. “As new polymers are developed, manufacturers have developed new dies by trial and error, using experience and intuition,” Gupta said. “A lot of time can be wasted, and you can lose your edge on the competition.”

PELDOM is changing that. With the software, manufacturers can simulate how a given polymer will flow through a die.

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Product Modularity–The Link Between Product Architecture and Product Life-Cycle Costs

John Gershenson (MEEM) has received a $289,439 grant for his project, “Product Modularity–The Link Between Product Architecture and Product Life-Cycle Costs.” This grant provides for the development of a method for understanding qualitative and quantitative connections among product architecture, product modularity, and life-cycle costs. Product architecture – the structure of assemblies, sub-assemblies, and components – has an enormous impact on the costs associated with each life-cycle phase of a product; manufacturing, assembly, service, retirement, etc. Component grouping into modules is one of the critical early decisions made by designers. This work aims to provide the relationship between modularity decisions and life-cycle product costs that designers lack by quantitatively relating each to product architecture. The result is a validated, implementable design method that includes these quantitative relationships. We hope to explicitly show, and therefore encourage, the application of validation to design methods.

If successful, this research will yield a fundamental bridge between the elements that a design engineer controls early in the engineering design process and the long-term life-cycle costs of a product. After application by design engineers, the result should be dramatically reduced product life-cycle costs and dramatically reduced product development cycle times. In the longer term, this research in product architecture should yield fundamental linkages that enable true up front concurrent engineering where products and processes are designed for minimum total life-cycle costs.

Throughout this project, the PI will team with Ph.D. students in the life-cycle engineering laboratory and undergraduate researchers through the Michigan King-Chavis-Parks Initiative for underrepresented students. The PI also plans research / teaching opportunities with classes in life-cycle engineering, senior capstone design, and new product development.

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Ford Gift Opens Door to Nanotech Research

Two Michigan Technological University researchers are undertaking a brand-new endeavor that could play a role in fields as diverse as chemical warfare and computer touch screens, thanks to an unusual gift from the Ford Motor Company.

Ford has donated five patents that could serve as a springboard to the creation of some of the finest filters seen outside of nature.

The patents relate to conductive polymers, which the scientists hope to use as glue for building membranes so fine they could separate out oxygen (or more sinister gases) from the ambient air. The work involves combining 21st-century polymers and one of the most ancient organisms on earth, the diatom.

Too tiny to see with the naked eye, diatoms are a group of single-celled creatures, each with a very delicate skeleton. Viewed under an electron microscope, some species have disc-shaped skeletons patterned over with minute holes, or pores. Each pore measures between 20 and 100 nanometers across. For comparison’s sake, a human hair is about 100,000 nanometers wide.

Associate Professor Tony Rogers, of the Department of Chemical Engineering, and Visiting Associate Professor Burhanettin Altan, of the mechanical engineering department, speculate that diatoms could be used to make a new generation of semi-permeable membranes. But sticking them together in sheets has been an obstacle.

Thanks to Ford’s patent donation, MTU researchers believe they can use an electrically conductive polymer as a matrix for the diatoms, cementing them together. Then, they hope to coat the diatoms with a metal film and burn off the polymer.

What should remain would be the finest screen ever built outside of nature.

“We could make the pores selective for oxygen to separate it from the air,” Rogers said. “A big advantage would be its high selectivity and high permeability.” Usually, thin membranes allow more material to pass through, but are less selective. “Our membrane wouldn’t have that problem.”

Such filters could also be a defense against chemical attacks, if they could be configured to separate toxic gases from the air.

The membrane might have a number of other applications as well, and the conductive polymers hold promise in a variety of technologies, including touch screens, sensors, electronic devices, telecommunications equipment and electrical shielding.

Damian Porcari, director of technology commercialization for Ford Global Technologies Inc., said he’s pleased to be passing on the patents. FGTI is a wholly owned subsidiary of Ford Motor Company.

“We wanted to advance the technology, and Michigan Tech is ideally suited to continue this work,” Porcari said.

“We’re very grateful to Ford for their gift,” Rogers said. “Without their generous support, this research would be much more difficult.” The company also provided funding to administer the five patents.

Ford offered the patents to Michigan Tech as a result of the University’s research in conductive polymers, particularly within the Carbon Technology Center.

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