by William Schmitt
This first episode introduces David Bahr, PhD, head and professor of materials engineering, who guides our tour of innovations and cutting-edge experts who have been part of big change at Purdue University’s College of Engineering.
The episode provides background on the growth of the School of Materials Engineering, which in its first 60 years has become the fifth-largest materials engineering program in the U.S.
New material groups have emerged continuously over 60 years, adding breadth and depth to a repertoire that at first was focused on metals. The spectrum now includes ceramics, polymers, electronic materials, biomaterials, energetic materials, and more. Nanomaterials are formed as thin films that may combine the properties of more than one kind of material. Some nanomaterials have the thickness of a single atom and are called two-dimensional materials. One such material comprising a single layer of atoms is called graphene.
Haiyan Wang, the Basil S. Turner Professor of Engineering, is a noted researcher in thin film composites suited to the nanostructures of next-generation computing devices. Among the devices being developed are those that could no longer be called microelectronics; they transmit information using photons, not electrons, so they bear the name “photonics.” Wang mentioned Professor Michael Manfra, who is focused on a different path toward quantum computing.
Professor Matthew Krane centers his materials engineering and mechanical engineering research around metals processing and microstructures that affect product efficiency, efficacy and sustainability. His manufacturing partners include companies in today’s steel industry, with its new demand for customized, advanced properties. Krane mentioned Professor Kenneth Sandhage, who is pursuing properties of intensive heat and corrosion resistance in materials that would provide heat-transfer functions in concentrated solar power plants.
Professor Jeffrey Youngblood works on polymers and other materials, such as ceramics, with a special focus on optimizing sustainability in products. His research seeks out natural materials, including cellulose, but all materials must be judged in light of a “triple bottom line” standard. Products must be functional, cost-effective and sustainable. One Purdue innovation, nano-cellulose-enabled concrete, has been used to pave a parking lot in South Carolina.
This triple bottom line also applies to development of such products as heat exchangers for turbine engines, a project in which Youngblood has joined forces with Professor Rodney Trice. They aim to reduce jet engines’ carbon footprint. Their collaborators include the Burke Laboratory, a mechanical engineering research facility emphasizing energy efficiency.
Professor Davin Piercey develops new energetic materials, such as explosives. One must address an array of safety and toxicity concerns in this field. The quality of replacement materials can be determined through small-scale experimentation. Piercey said the experimentalists enjoy the hands-on work but also benefit from the predictive skills of data scientists conducting simulations and modeling to assess different materials and properties.