Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering News
Dr. Claire Xiong, assistant professor in the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering was named a 2017 Scialog Fellow. Scialog supports research, intensive dialog, and community building to address scientific challenges of global significance. Scialog Fellows collaborate on high-risk discovery research on untested ideas, identify bottlenecks, and encourage innovative approaches.
Dr. Xiong’s research focuses on sustainable energy innovation. Her expertise is in the areas of materials design, materials discovery, materials processing, and advanced characterization related to rechargeable batteries.
Renewable energy, especially wind and solar power, is of primary importance worldwide. Clean power can have positive environmental and economic impact; however, relying on these intermittent sources of energy can also be problematic. What happens in instances of cloud cover or low wind? Electrical grids become unstable resulting in damaged electronic devices, loss of communication, or regional blackouts. Traditionally, clean power sources are backed up with more stable fossil-fuel generators that provide power during peak energy usage. Going forward, innovations in battery technology can provide a more efficient source of energy storage.
Rechargeable batteries (e.g., lithium-ion or sodium-ion batteries) allow load-leveling and the shifting of intermittently generated energy from wind turbines and solar panels. These techniques provide on-demand electricity, especially when wind or solar energy generation is low. Although today’s rechargeable lithium-ion battery technology has transformed the industry of portable electronics (cell phones, laptop computers, etc.), meeting grid storage application demands presents greater challenges. Meeting these challenges requires innovative approaches and transformative ideas to design, discover, and optimize new materials. “I am fascinated by the imperfections in electrode materials which can lead to enhanced electrochemical and structural properties and faster movement of ions within electrode materials, leading to better energy, power, and battery life,” says Xiong. The potential for large scale rechargeable battery use is promising. Combined with other sources of energy, rechargeable batteries could provide power in areas devastated by storms. They could also be used to further stabilize the use of wind and solar energy.
Dr. Xiong has a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry and electrochemistry from the University of Pittsburgh, and an M.S. in inorganic chemistry and a B.E. in applied chemistry from East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai. She participated in two post-doctoral fellowships, one at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) at Harvard University and another at the Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne National Laboratory. At Harvard, her research involved electrochemical characterization of micro-fabricated cathode materials for micro-solid oxide fuel cells. At Argonne National Laboratory, she worked on the development of novel nano-architectured electrode materials for energy storage and conversion. As a Scialog Fellow, Dr. Xiong realizes the opportunity to work with top researchers to further advance clean energy usability.
Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Dr. Nader Rafla and Materials Science and Engineering Professor Dr. Peter Mullner received a $418,330 Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission (IGEM) award to support the development of a smart micropump.
The IGEM grant program supports research collaborations between university researchers and business experts to create new technologies for commercial use. Dr. Rafla and Dr. Mullner will partner with the Boise State startup company Shaw Mountain Technology LLC and AceCo Precision Manufacturing to develop a magnetic shape memory (MSM) micropump for the research laboratory and drug delivery markets.
MSM alloys are typically a combination of nickel, manganese, and gallium. These alloys create ferromagnetic materials that can shape shift when near a magnet. Apply a magnetic field, and the material responds with a shape change. Remove the field, and the new shape remains. Apply a different magnetic field and the material re-forms into a new shape. Do this quickly and with purpose and a small motor or pump can be created. Thus, the material is the machine. The IGEM award will help researchers and their business partners create an electromagnetic drive system for the MSM Micropump. The goal is to develop a complete pumping system with no moving parts. The electromagnetic drive system and closed loop control will improve the pumping precision. This technology can be used to integrate components of a drug delivery system into a single chip. It can also be used for DNA sequencing or biochemical detection. This lab-on-a-chip platform is based on microfluidics technology, which is the science and engineering of fluid flow in microscale.
Boise State University has already licensed three patents on MSM technology to Shaw Mountain Technology. The startup company is currently beta testing the MSM micropump in research laboratories. “I envision the Treasure Valley as the home of (i) the first company that commercializes MSM technology and (ii) a growing new industry of smart material micro-devices. All my scholarly activities will support this vision” says Dr. Mullner, founder of Shaw Mountain Technology.
Celebrating 20 years at Boise State, the College of Engineering educates high-quality engineers who can strengthen the local workforce. This IGEM project is an excellent opportunity for the College to partner with local businesses to create new products, support local companies, and provide high-value jobs in Idaho.
Armen Kvryan was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. He received a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering and a minor in materials engineering from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He moved to Boise during the Summer of 2014 to pursue a Ph.D in Materials Science and Engineering.
As an undergraduate at Cal Poly, Armen originally studied music theory with the intent to become a teacher. In need of an elective to fulfill degree requirements, Armen enrolled in a general chemistry course. He was captivated by how molecules can rearrange themselves and, in the process, change their own properties. When molecules and atoms rearrange or are exposed to different environments like air, water, and heat, their structures alter along with their capabilities. Armen decided that his growing interest in chemical engineering was greater than his interest in music theory so he changed his major. As a chemical engineering undergraduate, Armen had the great opportunity to conduct several years of corrosion research. Corrosion involves the wearing down of materials over time due to environmental elements like air, water, and heat, which is exactly what piqued Armen’s interest during his first general chemistry course.
Armen was sure he wanted to continue his education by obtaining a graduate degree. His advisor, Dr. Vilupanur Ravi, chair of the Chemical and Materials Engineering Department at Cal Poly, Pomona mentioned that Boise State University has a strong program in corrosion research. Based on Dr. Ravi’s input, Armen applied for admission to the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering. He joined Dr. Mike Hurley’s research group in Fall 2014 to further his knowledge about corrosion. He immediately felt welcomed into a supportive program.
Corrosion Research – Helping to Rebuild America
Armen’s research is focused on assessing the corrosion behavior of aerospace bearing steels. He uses electrochemistry to accelerate the corrosion process so he can observe how materials respond to induced corrosion. The acceleration process allows Armen to quickly and efficiently gain a better understanding of how materials react. He also studies the effects of heat on the corrosion behavior of martensitic stainless steel. He studies steels of the same composition that have undergone different heat treatments to see how heat affects corrosion behavior and why. This knowledge may lead to new methods for reducing or eliminating corrosive damage in new and existing structures.
Armen plans to continue researching corrosion to help rebuild infrastructure in America. The U.S. Department of Transportation states that the effects of corrosion cost the United States more than $300 billion annually. The cost of maintaining infrastructure increases every year and must be mitigated. New developments in corrosion research can help reduce costs significantly. While on an internship at SpaceX, Armen was introduced to the complexities of how scientific research can influence governmental policies. These collaborations can facilitate new policies regarding the use of new and improved materials that stand the test of time and, in turn, cost less to maintain. Armen envisions a career in which he can strengthen partnerships between scientists and government entities.
Internships – Paving the Way to a Great Career
Armen recently participated in a summer internship at SpaceX, a private company that designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. The company was founded in 2002 to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets. Most of Armen’s work involved researching the re-usability of rockets after they have been in contact with salt water. This is all Armen can explain about his internship because research conducted at SpaceX is confidential! He can reveal that one of the most appealing aspects of the internship at SpaceX was the opportunity to experience, first-hand, how scientists and government officials collaborate to reach common goals.
Recognizing the value of internships, Armen sought a second opportunity at NASA. He spent this great summer experience testing coatings for corrosion resistance. He was also responsible for initiating and monitoring stress-corrosion cracking studies for materials used in aerospace applications.
These internships allowed Armen the opportunity to work in both private industry and a government agency. “Experiencing how research varies in academia, private industry, and government agencies was eye-opening,” says Armen, who is now well-prepared to enter the workforce. He recommends that all students participate in at least one internship for professional growth and development.
Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering – Preparing Graduates for a Bright Future
Armen continues to grow intellectually and academically as a graduate student. The daily interactions he has with the helpful staff, faculty, and fellow students have enabled him to become an effective engineer. His research has led to some great hands-on career experience and Armen is well equipped to make a positive difference in the workforce.
Armen recommends that students dedicate themselves to their chosen field of study. Immersing into a research group, professional societies, and club activities allows students to learn more about materials science and engineering and the multifaceted career opportunities that are available.
Claire Xiong, assistant professor in the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering is reaching out to local youth. Dr. Xiong recently received a prestigious NSF CAREER award aimed at boosting student interest in STEM fields and building energy literacy in youth at non-school settings. In support of these goals, Dr. Xiong recently collaborated with Boise State University’s Service Learning Program to introduce STEM to the Girl Scouts of Silver Sage.
Service Learning Promotes Community Relations
The Boise State Service Learning Program connects classrooms with the community through capacity-building partnerships. These connections enhance student learning, address critical community issues, and encourage students to be active citizens in their local, national, and global communities.
Dr. Xiong’s service learning project involved Boise State students enrolled in her materials for energy sustainability course. Students developed a deeper understanding of energy sustainability by creating interactive group projects and presenting them to the Girl Scouts. By the end of the course, students realized their role in the community and learned that they can have a positive impact on our youth.
Hands-on Projects Promote STEM
The Girl Scouts participated in hands-on projects to discover the important role of materials in solving the most critical problem of our time: sustainable energy. Participants discovered how advanced functional materials play a role in the creation of windmills, solar cells, and hydropower. They also learned about the process of identifying materials that might have less environmental impact. A key take-away was their discovering how to retrieve the information necessary to propose their own solutions to material-related problems. Stimulating this level of confidence promotes curiosity in STEM and is an important factor in educating tomorrow’s workforce.
Does hands-on experimentation have an impact? The Girl Scouts, troop leaders, and parents seem to think so. With the initial goal of earning a Girl Scout badge, the Scouts created things like solar cells and slime during this service learning project. When asked about the one thing she learned about solar power, a Scout said, “You can make electricity out of blackberry juice!” Another participant said, “My favorite activity was about wind power because we got to create a windmill.” In the end, earning a badge was one important outcome; however, it was clear that the Girl Scouts also learned that science is fun. “Rarely have I seen my daughter so engaged,” said one parent. Troop leaders, parents, and Scouts are already looking forward to collaborating with Boise State on future hands-on STEM activities.
Much of Nick Carter’s family is originally from the Boise area; however, Nick’s service with the military and, in his words, “being a military brat,” has allowed him to live in over twenty different locations. He applied for admission at Boise State University after leaving the military so he could return to Boise, the place he truly calls home. He already knew that Boise State was renowned for its materials science and engineering (MSE) program and he thought it might be a great fit for him. Nick is now working toward his bachelor of science in materials science and engineering and is gaining valuable lab experience at the same time.
Life Before Boise State
Nick’s quest for higher education began way before his military career. After high school, he was admitted to Colorado State University to study computer science. Nick transferred to Boise State shortly thereafter, and changed his major to business-finance. It did not take long for Nick to learn that immersing into a well-rounded college experience while working full-time is quite a challenge. He decided to stop taking classes and enter the workforce. Nick concluded that higher level employment opportunities were hard to obtain without a college degree or prior experience, so he joined the military to broaden his future employment opportunities.
Military life offers some unique learning opportunities. For example, Nick attended the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California during his time serving our country. He studied Pashtu, which is an Indo-Iranian language spoken in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A few years later he took advanced courses at the National Security Agency and is now fluent in the language.
Serving our country can also introduce some unique challenges when it comes to immersing into life outside of the military. Many veterans feel a strong sense of camaraderie with fellow veterans, but may feel like they don’t belong in civilian life. As non-traditional students, many veterans view college as something outside of their lifestyle. Identifying social networks is vital to creating a sense of belonging. Finding resources that encourage veterans’ use of the GI Bill and other military benefits makes a significant difference in their transitioning into life after the military. Nick has successfully navigated these challenges and is now supporting fellow veterans so they can thrive in higher education.
Discovering Materials Science and Engineering
Nick’s goal after his military career was to continue his education. He had majored in computer science and business before he enlisted, but wanted to focus instead on some kind of engineering. Materials science and engineering focuses on researching, designing, and engineering new materials. It incorporates many aspects of physics, chemistry, and other engineering disciplines, which was appealing. “Sometimes materials science and engineering is labeled as the jack of all trades of engineering. I am very much a jack of all trades and a master of none,” says Nick. The opportunity to conduct research in the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering allows Nick to master his varied interests in the sciences.
Learning by Doing
Nick is gaining some valuable hands-on experience in a research lab while he completes his bachelor of science degree. He is currently researching corrosion rates of heat-treated bearing steels for the aviation industry. Turbine bearings are often composed of various heat-treated metals. Working with Dr. Mike Hurley, Nick is using electrochemical testing to help determine corrosion rates for these metals.
Nick has also gained experience with electrochemically depositing DNA origami structures onto boron implanted silicon substrates. This process may provide an improved technique for patterning wafers for the semiconductor industry. Nick proposed continuing this research in his senior project class and is now working with a group of students to further develop the process. The student research group will present their findings at the annual College of Engineering Senior Project Showcase in May.
Nick remains involved with the military by working with the Veterans Services program. Boise State partners with Peer Advisors for Veteran Education (PAVE,) a Military Support Programs and Services (M-SPAN) initiative. PAVE is a peer–to-peer program that connects incoming student veterans attending college on the Post-9/11 GI Bill with successful student veterans. Nick is happy to support his fellow veterans as a peer advisor. Based on his own experiences with military life and transitioning into higher education, Nick is able to provide solid guidance and ongoing support to incoming student veterans. We asked Nick what he recommends to current and prospective student veterans to promote their success. He said “Boise State has a great materials science and engineering program and, if you apply yourself, you will do very well. Try to get involved with research as soon as possible. You will learn a lot more in the lab compared to just taking classes. The practical hands-on lab experience will be of great benefit when looking for a job later.”