Photo for Materials Research of David Grummon and students in the lab.

The potential for developing new useful materials is virtually unbounded, both from a nanoscale perspective and from a biomaterials perspective. Nanomaterials research impacts on our nanomedicine efforts, on infrastructure security research, and on alternative energy efforts, inter alia. We also have growing strength in surface coating technology, which impacts on both health and manufacturing problems.

In the News

New composite-materials center

MSU assumes leadership role in national composite-materials venture

Lawrence Drzal was with President Obama during the federal announcement of the new IACMI.With more than 25 years of research excellence in the field of composite materials, Michigan State University was tapped by President Barack Obama on Jan. 9, 2015, to be a core partner in a national consortium designed to advance research and development in this all-important field. 

MSU will lead the light-and-heavy-duty vehicle component of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, or IACMI, a 122-member consortium funded by a more than $70 million commitment over five years from the U.S. Department of Energy.

MSU is home to the Composite Materials and Structures Center, as well as the Composite Vehicles Research Center. Both have long been nationally recognized as leaders in the field.

“These two world-class facilities will serve as the foundation for future work in this program,” said Lawrence Drzal, director of the MSU Composite Materials and Structures Center, who will serve as director of the Michigan Center of Excellence for the newly formed institute. “We’re confident the IACMI will create new jobs, support the expansion of companies and educate technicians and engineers for these industries.”

Drzal, a University Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering and materials science, shared the stage with Obama when creation of the institute was announced.

The institute will focus on advanced fiber-reinforced polymer composites, materials that combine strong fibers with strong plastics that are lighter and stronger than even steel.

The advancement of composite-material research is particularly important in the state of Michigan. These materials are crucial to the auto industry, which continues to look for ways to manufacture vehicles that are fuel-efficient and safe.

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Advancing brazing alloysJason Nicholas, Thomas Bieler, and Yue Qi will use a $694,000 grant to advance brazing alloys for solid oxide fuel cells.

MSU Engineering seeks new brazing alloys for Solid Oxide Fuel Cells with help from $694,000 grant

Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFCs) are a promising green energy technology offering high efficiencies in chemical-to-electricity conversion, the ability to both store and produce energy, and a possible path to transition from today’s hydrocarbon-based economy to a CO2-neutral economy running on hydrogen or biofuels.

First, however, SOFC researchers have to tackle one of its greatest commercialization obstacles – a lack of durable, impermeable sealing materials to hold it all together.

A new $694,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to the Michigan State University College of Engineering will help advance the green technology of SOFCs by designing new SOFC brazing alloys.

Brazing is a metal-joining process similar to soldering, except the temperatures used to melt the filler metal are higher for brazing.Braze sample arc melter

"We hope to design and test new SOFC-compatible, self-passivating brazes that are durable and impermeable to oxygen and hydrogen," said Jason Nicholas, assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science. "Our goal is to create brazed solid oxide fuel cells that can withstand both 40,000 hours of operation at 750oC and rapid thermal cycling between 750oC and room temperature."

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Commercializing new low-cost thermoelectric materials

Research by Don Morelli that led to a collaboration with Alphabet Energy on a new thermoelectric material is featured in the journal, "Advanced Energy Materials."Thermoelectric leaders at Alphabet Energy and Michigan State University have entered a key partnership for the exclusive commercialization of new materials that will help lower costs for converting heat to electricity. The announcement was made July 7 during the 2014 International Conference of Thermoelectrics in Nashville, Tenn.

The research that advanced this new thermoelectric material was led by Don Morelli, a professor of materials science in the MSU College of Engineering.

“In our search for efficient, abundant, and nontoxic thermoelectric materials, we were led to the tetrahedrites, a family of compounds of commonly occurring elements, by theoretical calculations of their properties," Morelli explained. "The fact that they are naturally-occurring minerals is an added bonus – one can either synthesize them in the lab or use the natural mineral itself as a source thermoelectric material. The compounds are especially interesting because they combine very low thermal conductivity with unusually good electronic properties."

Alphabet’s thermoelectrics materials team, comprised of several leading industry experts, quickly recognized the value of tetrahedrite in complementing its existing silicon-based technology innovations.

Morelli, who led the research that was published in the journal, Advanced Energy Materials, said the process is only the first step in creating a low-cost, widespread technology for converting heat to electricity. "We are excited to work with Alphabet Energy because they have the resources, knowledge, and experience to take these materials from the laboratory to the marketplace."

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Small stuff, big impact: Nelson Sepúlveda seeks applications for new ‘smart’ material with solid-to-solid phase transition

Dr. Nelson Sepúlveda researches phase-changing “smart material"

Nelson Sepúlveda, assistant professor in the Michigan State University Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is investigating a phase-changing “smart material,” looking for new ways to move things at the micro level.

Funding for the research comes from three National Science Foundation grants, totaling $860,000 to advance his work on Vanadium Dioxide (VO2). 

Sepúlveda is working to enable VO2-based technologies that can allow for the integration of this smart, multifunctional material into micrometer-sized devices. "My research group works on very small stuff," Sepúlveda said. "Think about taking the motor of a car and making it fit inside a hair. You want to scale down and integrate all the individual parts so you can make the best use of the fully assembled system."

"With the help from a very talented group of graduate students – who basically do all the work -- we take an actuator and make it fit within the thickness of two hairs – a device that is about 200 microns. When perfected, it could allow for very precise microsurgery and help surgeons pinpoint tissue for selective treatment," he explained. "Other areas that are likely to be impacted by this research include RF circuits (e.g. antennas and transceivers), biomedical devices, sensors, actuators and imagers). The collaboration with my colleague, Professor Xiaobo Tan, will be key in advancing the control of VO2-based devices. Any breakthroughs at the micro level will be very impactful."

An actuator is a type of device for moving or controlling a mechanism or system.  It is operated by a source of energy and converts that energy into motion.  A microactuator does the same thing on a microscale.

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