IMS Welcomes Dr. J. Nathan Hohman

Dr J. Nathan Hohman
Dr. J. Nathan Hohman

Dr. J. Nathan Hohman (Nate) has joined the Institute of Materials Science as a resident faculty member from the Chemistry Department. Dr. Hohman, began his graduate work at Penn State University and received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Los Angeles advised by Dr. Paul Weiss. He completed his postdoctoral research with Dr. Nicholas Melosh at Stanford University. Most recently, Dr. Hohman was employed at the Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Dr. Hohman’s research interests include surface science, nanomaterials, chemical patterning, and many other areas.

IMS Director Dr. Steven Suib, expressed his thanks to the hiring committee which included Drs. Rainer Hebert (Chair), Andrei Alexandrescu. Baki Cetegen, Martin Han, Jie He, Linnaea Ostroff, and Luyi Sun. He also expressed gratitude for the support of Provost John Elliott, Vice President for Research Radenka Maric, Dean Davita Glasberg of CLAS, and Chemistry Department Head Christian Bruckner.

New Technology Designed to Reduce Mortality Rates in Cancer Patients

Ph.D. students Leila Daneshmandi (l) and Armin Tahmasbi Rad (r)
Ph.D. students Leila Daneshmandi (l) and Armin Tahmasbi Rad (r)

Armin Tahmasbi Rad, Ph.D. candidate in Dr. Mu-Ping Nieh’s group, along with Leila Daneshmandi, Ph.D. candidate in Biomedical Engineering have developed a system to grow and test tumor cells outside the body with a goal of more efficient patient treatment.

UConn Today reports that the technology could potentially greatly reduce the trial-and-error aspect of cancer treatment that is exhausting, expensive, and potentially fatal for the patient.

The researchers are aided by support from Accelerate UConn, the National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps site at UConn.

Read the full story at UConn Today.

Collaboration Leads to Publication for IMS Faculty Member and Industry Partner

UConn research was the cover story in a recent edition of the journal CrystEngComm.
UConn research was the cover story in a recent edition of the journal CrystEngComm.

A research collaboration between a team of researchers led by IMS resident faculty member, Dr. Serge Nakhmanson, and industry partner Pfizer Inc. has lead to a cover story in the February 28 edition of CrystEngComm.

The collaboration, which includes members of the Materials Science and Engineering Department, seeks to determine the usefulness of machine learning in determining optimum methods of crystallizing pharmaceutical compounds from liquid to pill form.

UConn Today reports that three separate algorithms were tested using data and expertise from Pfizer.

Read the full story at UConn Today

Undergraduate from Menka Jain’s Group Receives NSF Honorable Mention

Undergraduate Mark E. Johnson

Mark E. Johnson, an undergraduate student in Dr. Menka Jain’s group, has received Honorable Mention in the 2019 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP).

The GRFP recognizes and supports individuals early in their graduate training in STEM (Science, Technology, Education, and Mathematics) fields.

Mark’s proposal for the GRFP was based on research he has conducted over the last three semesters in Dr. Jain’s lab.

Mark will graduate in May with a dual major in physics and chemistry. While he has received offers from many graduate programs, Mark will begin his graduate studies at University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

IMS Researchers Published in Nano Letters and Featured by Los Alamos National Lab

Artist’s rendition depicts the naturally abundant material with isotopes shown in a variety of colors and the isotopically pure material with uniform coloring.
Artist’s rendition depicts the naturally abundant material with isotopes shown in a variety of colors and the isotopically pure material with uniform coloring.

Research on isotopic purification of 2D materials, conducted by several IMS members, has been published in the journal Nano Letters. Their discovery is also highlighted by the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Ph.D. student Wei Wu, x-ray lab manager, Mayra Daniela Morales-Acosta, and former IMS faculty member, Dr. Michael Pettes are among the researchers.

Wei Wu, Mayra Daniela Morales-Acosta, Yongqiang Wang, and Michael T. Pettes, “Isotope effect in bilayer WSe2,” Nano Letters 19(3), 1527–1533 (2019).

MSE and IMS Researchers Land $4.5M Air Force Contract

Exerpted from a story from UConn Today

F-15 Eagles at Write Patterson AFB
A pair of F-15 Eagles from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., taxi after landing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio in preparation for landing and safe haven, Oct. 9, 2018. The F-15 is one of several planes taking safe haven at Wright-Patterson AFB as Hurricane Michael threatens their home station. (U.S. Air Force photo by Wesley Farnsworth)

A research team led by Drs. S. Pamir Alpay and Rainer Hebert has landed a $4.5M contract to aid the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in developing processes to increase efficiencies in the production of original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts.  The project involves a team of seven faculty members, 10 doctoral students, and two postdoctoral researchers.  The award was announced by U.S. Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Representative Joe Courtney.

In the manufacture of aircraft parts, relatively inexpensive raw materials go through several steps to be transformed into expensive components for use in the aerospace sector. At each step in the manufacturing process, the potential exists for flaws, which could lead to the failure of a part to function as designed and the scrapping of the part.  The research being funded through this contract seeks to understand every step in the manufacturing process in order to improve the quality of the system and parts, reduce costs, and enhance industrial capability.

Drs. S. Pamir Alpay and Rainer Hebert
Pamir Alpay, left, and Rainer Hebert, stand next to a 3D metal printer at the Innovation Partnership Building on Dec. 20, 2017. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Dr. Alpay is the General Electric Professor in Advanced Manufacturing and executive director of the Innovation Partnership Building (IPB) at the UConn Tech Park.  Dr. Hebert is the director of the Pratt & Whitney Additive Manufacturing Center and associate director of the Institute of Materials Science (IMS).  Both are professors in the Materials Science and Engineering Department (MSE) and faculty members in IMS. They have gathered an extensive team of experts from UConn and collaborated with industry leaders including Pratt & Whitney, Aero Gear, and GKN Aerospace.  The research and development activities will be conducted at the IPB.

“Through UConn’s expertise in specialized manufacturing simulation, extensive materials analysis, and process modeling, we will provide transformative capabilities for AFRL, OEMs and their supply chains to reduce scrap rates, increase yield and performance, and cut down on failures,” says Dr. Alpay.

The UConn AFRL Research Group
The UConn-AFRL research group at the Innovation Partnership Building at UConn Tech Park. From left, Dr. Jeongho Kim, Rui Li, Ryan Enos, Dr. Jiong Tang, Uche Anene, Dr. Dianyun Zhang, Dr. Hal Brody, Lakshmi Ravi Narayan, Dr. Serge Nakhmanson, Dr. Rainer Hebert, Lillia Miller, Dr. Howard Sizek (AFRL, Program Manager), Lukasz Kuna, Mohamad Daeipour, and Dr. Pamir Alpay. (Uche Anene/UConn Photo)

Other UConn researchers involved in the program include: Hal Brody, Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering; Jeongho Kim, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Connecticut Manufacturing Simulation Center; Jiong Tang, professor of mechanical engineering; Serge Nakhmanson, associate professor of materials science and engineering; and Dianyun Zhang, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

“The intellectual depth, capabilities, and capacity, combined with state-of-the-art research facilities at UConn, will provide the tools necessary so that our federal and industry partners can integrate them into U.S. defense strategies and strengthen the nation’s global dominance in materials development for the aerospace sector,” said Radenka Maric, UConn’s vice president for research.

Dr. Avinash Dongare Named UTC Professor in Engineering Innovation

Dr. Avinash Dongare
UTC Professor of Engineering Innovation, Dr. Avinash Dongare

Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Avinash Dongare, has been named the United Technologies Corporation (UTC) Professor in Engineering Innovation. The professorship was established in 2000 to “recognize exceptional achievements among young faculty exemplifying excellence in the areas of research productivity and impact, teaching contributions, and service contributions and are at the very top of their area of research.” The appointment carries a three-year funding award of $5,000 per year for professional development and growth.

“I am immensely humbled and honored to be selected as the United Technologies Corporation Professor in Engineering Innovation in the School of Engineering. This is a recognition for my collaborators, teachers/mentors and for the scientific pursuit and hard work of the students and researchers in my group,” Dr. Dongare says in response to his appointment to the professorship.

Dr. Dongare joined the faculty of UConn in 2012 as an assistant professor in the Materials Science and Engineering Department with an appointment in the Institute of Materials Science. His research at UConn focuses on the development and application of advanced materials modeling methods to investigate structure-property relationships of materials as well as the evolution of microstructure at scales ranging from atomic scales to mesoscales in various environments and unravel the links between the microstructure, properties, processing and performance of materials.

His current projects are based on density functional theory (DFT), molecular dynamics (MD), Monte Carlo (MC) simulations and machine learning (ML) methods and mesoscale modeling methods. Of particular relevance is my development of the mesoscale modeling method called “quasi-coarse-grained dynamics” (QCGD) that scales up the capability of MD simulations to model materials behavior at the mesoscales to model microstructural evolution at the time and length scales of experiments.

As a result of his research, Dr. Dongare has secured external funding as principle investigator (PI) or co-PI from the National Science Foundation (NSF), US Army Research Office (ARO), US Army Research Laboratory (ARL), Pratt and Whitney (PW) and the Department of Energy (DOE). Of particular importance is the recognition of his contributions through the NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award in 2015 and a Center for Research Excellence award funded by DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). He was also the recipient of the prestigious National Research Council (NRC) – Research Associateship Award from the US Army Research Office for post-doctoral research and was the recipient of the 2015 Young Leaders Professional Development Award from The Minerals, Metals, and Materials Society (TMS).

“I extend my sincere gratitude towards Department Head Bryan Huey for this nomination and Dean Kazem Kazerounian and the committee for this recognition,” says Dr. Dongare.

A Microscope as a Shovel? UConn Researchers Dig It

excerpted from UConn Today by
Kim Krieger – UConn Communications

Bryan Huey’s lab used the tip of an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) as a chisel to scrape away the surface of bismuth ferrite and map the electric landscape of the interior. (Image courtesy of the Huey Lab)

Using a familiar tool in a way it was never intended to be used can open up a whole new method to explore materials, report UConn researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. Their specific findings could someday create more energy efficient computer chips. But more broadly, their approach should spur scientists worldwide into trying to use this new approach for a wide range of other materials and eventual applications.

Image courtesy of Jack Dumala, Daniel Schwartz, UConn SquaredLabs
Image courtesy of Jack Dumala, UConn SquaredLabs

The research is based on Atomic force microscopes (AFM), which materials scientists and other researchers use to carefully trace an ultra sharp tip across the surface of all kinds of materials. The tip can ‘feel’ where the surface is, and sometimes can also sense properties like electric and magnetic forces emanating from the material. Then, in the same way a farmer methodically drives a plow back and forth or up and down a rolling field, an AFM can scan the hills and valleys at the surface of a material, developing maps of its holes and protrusions, and even its properties, all at length scales a thousand times smaller than a grain of salt.

Unlike the farmer’s plow, AFMs are generally designed to barely touch the surface in order to prevent damage to the sample (churning up the field). But sometimes it happens anyway.

A few years ago, Yasemin Kutes and Justin Luria, graduate student and postdoc members of UConn materials scientist Bryan Huey’s lab, dug into solar cells they were studying. At first thinking this was an irritating mistake, they noticed that the properties of the material looked different from pictures of the original surface alone. That wasn’t too surprising—for materials used in real-world applications, often the surface is actually engineered to have different properties. Yet before, there had simply been no way to measure such underlying properties with the resolution offered by AFM.

In fact, in the 30 years since AFMs were invented, only a handful of groups worldwide have reported such measurements. This was usually either to finely shape a surface, or to map where electricity flows in a part of a computer chip or in a solar cell like at UConn. But another graduate student in Huey’s group, James Steffes, was inspired to take advantage of this discovery for an entirely different class of materials and materials properties. Could he intentionally use the tip of an AFM like the farmer’s plow, progressively digging deeper into the material, and at the same time map the electrical or magnetic properties for deeper and deeper layers of a ‘functional ceramic?’

The answers, as Steffes, Huey, and their colleagues report in the highly competitive journal PNAS, are yes and yes. To demonstrate the approach, they dug into a sample of bismuth ferrite (BiFeO3), which is a room temperature multiferroic provided by project collaborator Ramamoorthy Ramesh of UC Berkeley. Multiferroics are materials that support both electric and magnetic properties at the same time. For example, “BFO” is antiferromagnetic—it responds to magnetic fields, but overall does not exhibit a North or South magnetic pole—and ferroelectric, meaning it has switchable electric polarization. Such ferroelectrics usually comprise tiny ‘domains’ that all have similarly oriented electric fields. Think of a whole bunch of tiny batteries, clusters of which are aligned with their positive terminals pointing in one direction, alongside other clusters pointing another direction. These are very valuable for computer memory, because the computer can flip the domains, ‘writing’ data into the surrounding material. These domains can be fine enough to be serious contenders for replacing the enormous market of thumb drives and other solid state memory that is now in every smartphone, tablet, camera, and most computers.

But when a material scientist “reads” or “writes” such data in BFO, they can normally only see what happens on the surface. Yet they really need to know what lies beneath as well—if that is understood, it might be possible to engineer more efficient computer chips that run faster and use less energy than those available today. That’s a very important goal for society—already ~5% of all energy consumed in the US goes just to running computers.

domains in the bismuth ferrite changed in shape with depth
A new domain. The researchers were able to show how the domains (tiny sections of material with the same electric polarization) in the bismuth ferrite changed in shape with depth. (Image courtesy J. Steffes, B. Huey)

So Steffes, MSE Department Head Huey, and the rest of the team used an AFM tip to meticulously dig through a film of BFO and measure the interior piece by piece. They found they could map the individual domains all the way down, exposing patterns and properties which weren’t always apparent at the surface. Sometimes a domain narrowed with depth until it vanished, or split into a y-shape, or merged with another domain. No one had ever been able to see inside the material in this way before. It was revelatory, like looking at a 3-Dimensional CT scan of a bone for the first time, when you’d only been able to read 2-D x-ray films before.

“The systems we have in the IMS are special in many ways, including one we are now developing to advance Tomographic AFM even further thanks to a $1M grant from the National Science Foundation alongside support from UConn, the School of Engineering, and UConn. But worldwide there are something like 30,000 AFMs already installed. A big fraction of those are going to try Tomographic AFM in 2019 as our community realizes that we have literally just been scratching the surface all this time” predicts Huey. He also thinks more labs will buy AFMs if 3D mapping works for their materials, and some microscope manufacturers in this substantial high-tech industry will shift their focus to volumetric instead of surface scanning.

Steffes, who drove the project for his PhD research, has subsequently graduated from UConn with his PhD and is applying his skills and knowledge at computer chip maker GlobalFoundries. Researchers at Intel, muRata, and others are also intrigued with what the group discovered, as they seek new materials to extend computing and mobile devices beyond the current state of the art. Meanwhile, Huey’s current team of postdoc, graduate, and undergraduate researchers are continuing to use AFMs to dig into all kinds of materials, from concrete to bone to a host of other computer components. Huey says, “Working with academic and corporate partners, we can use our new insight to understand how to better engineer these materials to use less energy, optimize their performance, and improve their reliability and lifetime—those are examples of what Materials Scientists strive to do every day.”


Artificial Skin Could Give Superhuman Perception

Islam Mosa James Rusling Abdelsalam Ahmed
Left to right: Islam Mosa, James Rusling, Abdelsalam Ahmed

A new type of sensor could lead to artificial skin that someday helps burn victims ‘feel’ and safeguards the rest of us, University of Connecticut researchers suggest in a forthcoming paper in Advanced Materials.

Our skin’s ability to perceive pressure, heat, cold and vibration is a critical safety function that most people take for granted. But burn victims, those with prosthetic limbs, and others who have lost skin sensitivity for one reason or another, can’t take it for granted, and often injure themselves unintentionally.

Chemists Islam Mosa from UConn, and James Rusling from UConn and UConn Health, along with University of Toronto engineer Abdelsalam Ahmed, wanted to create a sensor that can mimic the sensing properties of skin. Such a sensor would need to be able to detect pressure, temperature and vibration. But perhaps it could do other things too, the researchers thought.

“It would be very cool if it had abilities human skin does not; for example, the ability to detect magnetic fields, sound waves, and abnormal behaviors,” said Mosa.

Read the full UConn Today story

State Legislators Visit UConn Innovation Partnership Building

State legislators visit IPB
Legislators view the Titan Themis at the Innovation Partnership Building (IPB) on Dec. 10, 2018. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Returning and newly elected state legislators met with university officials at the Innovation Partnership Building (IPB) this week to tour the unparalleled facility and to discuss many of UConn’s core research and educational programs. The tour group included Sen.-Elect Dan Champagne, Rep.-Elect Gary Turco, Rep. Chris Ziogas, Rep.-Elect Jason Doucette, and Rep. Greg Haddad.

Pamir Alpay, executive director of the IPB, led the group on a building tour, focusing on key research areas, specialty equipment and how IPB activities impact and support the state’s economic development. Legislators got a firsthand look at the Advanced Characterization Lab, which houses 11 electron microscopes in addition to X-ray equipment and optical microscopes. Pictured above, microscopy specialist Haiyan Tan demonstrated one of the most sophisticated and powerful electron microscopes in the world, the Titan Themis, which is capable of analyzing samples at the atomic level. Read the full UConn Today story.