Pitt | Swanson Engineering
MEMS News

Jan

Jan
16
2020

The Difference the Right Tools Can Make

MEMS

PITTSBURGH (Jan. 16, 2019) —  Sometimes, in order to understand the big picture, you need to start by assessing the smallest of details. It’s a truth that engineers know well — selecting the right materials can mean the success or failure of a given application. As technology advances, researchers have assessed engineering materials at the microscopic level for applications ranging from nanomachines to semiconductors, specialized coatings to robotics. For researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, looking closely enough to engineer materials for cutting-edge applications would not have been possible without the generous $1 million gift that Thomas F. Dudash provided in 2018. Mr. Dudash, an alumnus of the University of Pittsburgh who received his bachelor’s degree in metallurgical engineering in 1960, never imagined that he’d have a million dollars to donate for advanced research. After a lifelong career with Allegheny Ludlum, he wanted to share his success with the next generation of materials engineers. The gift was designated for the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science (MEMS), the successor to the metallurgical engineering program. The gift enabled the Department to purchase specialized sample holders that allow researchers to make in situ observations of materials behavior at the nano-scale using transmission electron microscopy. Those observations have led to foundational discoveries that are crucial for materials development. Scott X. Mao, MEMS professor, uses a specially designed sample holder to study how metals elongate and deform at the atomic level. Microelectronic mechanical systems rely on components made from microscopic structures of these metals, but metals behave differently at such a reduced length scale. Understanding the mechanical behavior of nanostructured metallic materials will enable the further development of strong and reliable components for advanced nanomechanical devices. Without such holder, it’s impossible to carry out an atomic scaled mechanical and electrical experiments under the most advanced high resolution electron microscope to achieve the understanding. Tevis Jacobs, assistant professor in MEMS, was able to acquire a specialized holder, which enables research advancing the understanding of micro- and nano-surfaces and engineering more stable nanoparticles. Nanoparticles play an important role in advanced industries and technologies, from electronics and pharmaceuticals to catalysts and sensors. Because they can be as small as 10 atoms in diameter, they are susceptible to coarsening with continued use, reducing their functionality and degrading performance. Jacobs received a $500,000 National Science Foundation CAREER Award for this work that will utilize the specialized holder to directly study and measure adhesion properties of nanoparticles and their supporting substrates. Thanks to Mr. Dudash’s gift, Jacobs and his team were able to procure the only commercially-available tool that can manipulate the materials as precisely as is necessary to perform their impactful research. The gift also enabled Assistant Professor Markus Chmielus’s research analyzing 3D-printed denture frames. His group has used a SkyScan 1272 micro-computed tomography (microCT) scanner – purchased and maintained using gift funds - to export an accurate model of an existing denture, then used binder jet 3D-printing to reproduce the model. The scanner can analyze samples prior to 3D-printing as well to look for porosity and how that porosity changes when heat treatment is added, helping researchers develop a processing step to eliminate porosity. So far, the group has used the microCT to evaluate densities of green and sintered binder jet 3D-printed metals, including nickel-based superalloys, functional magnetic materials, and a commonly used titanium alloy, Ti-6Al-4V. Anne Robertson, MEMS and BioE professor, and her team use the micro-CT in their NIH-supported work studying the causes for rupture of intracranial aneurysms (IAs). Robertson and her team used the specialized micro-CT equipment to analyze aneurysm tissue from patients and found that calcification is substantially more prevalent than previously thought. The micro-CT was able to identify microcalcifications as small as 3 micrometers. The team discovered differences in the types of calcification in ruptured versus unruptured aneurysms, made possible using the micro-CT system. This improved understanding should lead to new therapeutic targets and, ultimately, improved outcomes for patients with aneurysms. Great innovations require the right tools. Thanks to Mr. Dudash’s gift, the MEMS Department has the tools to innovate, discover and create—tools that have produced an important base of knowledge that manufacturers will be building on for years to come. “It is generous gifts from donors like Mr. Dudash that enable advanced research and, ultimately, discovery,” said Brian Gleeson, Tack Chaired Professor and MEMS Department Chairman. “Moreover, the funds provided by Mr. Dudash are being used strategically to create specialized capabilities that greatly help to procure further funding from agencies and, hence, further bolster research activities.”
Maggie Pavlick
Jan
6
2020

MEMS Welcomes Two New Faculty Members

MEMS

Qihan Liu Qihan Liu Dr. Liu received his BS from the University of Science and Technology of China (Special Class for Gifted Young) in 2010 and his PhD from Harvard University in Materials Sciences and Mechanical Engineering in 2016. Since completing his PhD, Dr. Liu has worked at Harvard as a postdoctoral fellow in the Bioengineering Department studying the manufacturing of 3D nanofibrous scaffold for regenerative heart valves. Trained as a theorist during his PhD studies, Dr. Liu has developed a strong background in the mechanics and physics of soft materials, with expertise spanning elastic instability, fracture, rheology, interfacial phenomena, and multi-physics constitutive models. Paul Ohodnicki Paul Ohodnicki Dr. Ohodnicki received bachelor degrees in both Economics and Engineering Physics from the University of Pittsburgh. He earned his MS and Ph.D. degrees in Materials Science from Carnegie Mellon University in 2006 and 2008, respectively. Dr. Ohodnicki’s most recent position was Materials Scientist and Technical Portfolio Lead of the Functional Materials Team at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in Pittsburgh. While at NETL, Dr. Ohodnicki received a Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering (2016) and was a finalist for the Service to America Promising Innovations Medal (2017). His research experience has spanned academia, industry, and the federal government. The main focus of Dr. Ohodnicki’s research is the synthesis, characterization, and integration of functional materials down to the nano-scale, together with component-level performance improvements through advanced materials engineering strategies. He has exploited advanced processing methods for both thin film and bulk nano-structured materials and nano-composites. These methods include additive manufacturing, thin film deposition, nanofabrication, and far-from equilibrium processing such as rapid solidification in addition to anisotropic processing in the presence of applied strain and magnetic fields. His research has been particularly impactful in the areas of soft magnetic materials and sensors for harsh service environments.

Jan
6
2020

NSF Grant Awarded

MEMS

Sung-Kwon Cho Microfluidics have had a tremendous impact on biotechnology, biosensors, health care, and more.  Conventional microfluidics are based on a micro channel network for continuous flow streams. In contrast, digital microfluidics use droplets as the operational element, which serve as carriers and reaction chambers eliminating the need for confining physical structures. The current method most commonly used to drive these droplets is through electrowetting on dielectric (EWOD). However, EWOD often suffers from limitations such as high voltage requirement and biofouling, hampering many real applications. Dr. Sung Kwon Cho, mechanical engineering professor, was awarded a $310,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to seek a straightforward pathway to a new digital microfluidic platform without the limitations of EWOD. The project is entitled, “Collaborative Research: Magnetically Actuated Black Silicon Ratchet Surfaces for Digital Microfluidics," and is in collaboration with Professor Seok Kim of the University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign. The proposed platform exploits a purely mechanical means to drive discrete liquid droplets in a rapid, flexible, programmable, and reconfigurable manner. The key mechanism is dynamically tuning surface morphology using magnetically-actuated anti-biofouling ratchet surfaces.  As a result, droplets are essentially driven mechanically, not electrically. This three-year collaborative research project will combine the expertise of Profs. Cho and Kim in mechanics, materials, manufacturing and microfluidics in order to achieve understanding and knowledge in the proposed system, and finally open up a new interdisciplinary research area across smart composite materials and digital microfluidics.