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Four COE Faculty earn NSF CAREER awards

Four COE faculty members are 2002 award recipients of the National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program. Each $375,000 award is granted on the basis of creative, career-development plans that effectively integrate research and education.

Manos  Mavrikakis

Manos Mavrikakis (large image)

Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering Manos Mavrikakis is searching for more suitable catalysts for fuel-cell electrodes. Government and industry are shifting focus from gasoline engines to fuel cell technology to efficiently power cars and reduce the nation's reliance on foreign oil. Direct methanol fuel cells (DMFC) hold the promise of direct conversion of methanol to electricity, a process that can be as much as four times more efficient than combustion in internal combustion engines. However, before DMFCs can be made commercially viable, a number of technological problems must be solved. Chief among these is the need to develop an electrooxidation catalyst that will both produce a high power density and be resistant to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning over time. Poisoning occurs as the CO produced from methanol oxidation sticks irreversibly to the catalyst surface, prohibiting further catalytic activity of the electrode. Using state-of-the-art theoretical tools and massively parallel supercomputers, Mavrikakis seeks fundamental understanding of methanol behavior on existing catalysts and new alloys that may lead to improved catalyst performance. His work is aimed at both oxygen reduction at the cathode and methanol oxidation at the anode, taking into account both electric field effects and solvent effects. His research team is looking at CO adsorption on various alloys to determine which give the lowest binding energy, and thus have the greatest potential for CO tolerance. On the cathode side he is looking at cathode catalytic bond breaking of the oxygen-oxygen bond. Subsequent investigations of various alloys will include the total cathode reaction which typically involves water formation. The results of these studies could produce faster cathode reactions.

Wendy C. Crone

Wendy C. Crone (large image)

Wendy Crone, assistant professor of engineering physics, is studying shape-memory alloys. The unique materials, which have applications in the biomedical, aerospace, microelectronics and automotive industries, have a crystallographic structure that enables them to undergo large deformations and then return to their original shape. However, researchers must develop reliable shape-memory alloy materials and devices, and Crone will investigate the effect of process-induced microstructure on the materials' fracture and fatigue behavior. In addition, she will study how grain refinement affects fracture behavior for a variety of grain sizes, and develop experimental models that explain mechanisms that influence fracture and fatigue in nickel-titanium and copper-based shape-memory alloys. Through the grant's education component, Crone will develop new course material in the areas of nanomaterials, micromechanics and fracture mechanics to educate both undergraduate and graduate students about the ways in which mechanics contributes to new technologies. This expanded course material also will have an international impact via the Smart Materials Exemplar of the Worldwide Universities Network, an international network of researchers and educators.

Robert W. Carpick

Robert W. Carpick (large image)

As nanomaterials increase in use, the need to understand their tribology — friction, adhesion, lubrication and wear properties — also becomes more urgent. At small scales, surface effects start to dominate over bulk effects, so surface forces such as friction and adhesion play a critical role. Robert Carpick, assistant professor of engineering physics, is studying the fundamental relationship between frictional energy dissipation and atomic vibrations. Using an atomic-force microscope, Carpick will measure friction at the atomic scale as a function of the sliding materials' vibrational properties, and he will manipulate these vibrational properties by changing the materials' isotopic composition�for example, by using heavier atoms. With this research, he hopes to provide a quantitative experimental basis that will enhance the understanding of the relationship between frictional energy dissipation and vibrational properties. Further, he hopes this knowledge will enable researchers to design nanostructured materials and devices with optimized tribological and other properties via isotopic engineering. With Assistant Professor Wendy Crone, Carpick will co-develop an advanced seminar course in nanotechnology to be used both locally and as a general model. In addition, he will promote awareness of nanoscale engineering by developing outreach materials directed toward the public, kindergarten through 12th-grade students, and traditionally underrepresented groups in engineering.

Tim  Shedd

Tim Shedd (large image)

Assistant Professor Tim Shedd, a new faculty member in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, leads the Multiphase Flow Visualization and Analysis Laboratory. He studies fundamental behaviors of multiphase flow, with specific attention to fluid systems common in refrigeration and air conditioning applications. Shedd and his team plan to develop unique and innovative experimental techniques for quantifying complex interactions between flowing vapors, liquids and solids. For example, they hope to visualize and measure liquid film development throughout a condensation process and study the inception of waves that are critical to heat transfer. He plans to expand these applications to novel two-phase electronics cooling projects in collaboration with faculty in the mechanical engineering department as well as partners in the high-end computing industry. He sees promising opportunities for further collaborative research on multiphase flows in the nuclear and conventional power generation industries as well. Shedd plans to enhance both graduate and undergraduate education in the thermal sciences through the use of live demonstrations of various kinds of fluid flow, both in the laboratory and in-class, real-world, project-based collaborative learning techniques, and the involvement of several undergraduate research assistants. Two portable flow demonstration units are planned: one for demonstrating two-phase flow and visualization techniques and the other for simultaneously visualizing single-phase flow behaviors and measuring heat transfer so the relationship between the two can be more than an abstract concept in a text book.