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Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering News

Graduate Student Mike Henry

Mike Henry Ph.D. Student

Mike Henry grew up in Gilbert, AZ and spent the majority of his childhood making things. Mike was an active creator, using a variety of materials from popsicle sticks and glue to Legos. Mike’s creativity quickly progressed to an interest in computers. He began assembling his own computers with used parts he scraped together from various sources. Mike’s family recognized his talent and enrolled him in charter schools throughout his K-12 education to allow him to pursue and expand his interests. Mike went on to receive a B.A. in Physics and Math from Simpson College, but he was still interested in pursuing more knowledge.

It’s Who You Know

Mike joined the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering (MSMSE) in January 2015 to pursue a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering. “You know the expression, it’s not what you know but who you know?” asked Mike. Well, it was definitely by the luck of who I knew that I ended up at Boise State.” Mike’s physics professor, Dr. Santos at Simpson College knew Dr. Eric Jankowski, who recently joined the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering as an assistant professor. Dr. Jankowski was interested in bringing the right graduate students to Boise State to help launch his research in computational modeling of materials. Dr. Santos introduced Mike to Dr. Jankowski, which led to an interview, followed by an offer for Mike to join Dr. Jankowski’s research group as a graduate student. At that point, Mike knew little about Boise State beyond the blue football field. He was not really familiar with materials science and engineering, either.

Mike was originally planning to pursue a Ph.D. in Physics, but switched to Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) after finding out about the endless possibilities for research and innovation in this field. MSE focuses on the relationship between structure (how atoms in materials are arranged), processing (how materials are shaped into something, e.g. forging metal), properties (how well they conducts electricity, for example), and performance (how well they work in certain applications). By pushing research boundaries in these areas, scientists can identify improved and even new materials that can have positive impact, worldwide.

Supercomputers Fuel Materials Research

Materials science research commonly takes place in research labs using high powered microscopes and other advanced research equipment.  Mike’s research takes place “in silico,” meaning that it is performed on supercomputers. Performing experiments through computational modeling allows researchers to gain unique insights that may not be evident using in-lab experimental results. These insights can help facilitate next steps in a project and save researchers valuable time and resources. Mike is using computer modeling to identify new applications for solar cells, which are a major source of clean energy. Organic photovoltaic (OPV) solar cells are lightweight, flexible, and inexpensive to manufacture. Computational modeling allows Mike to examine the arrangement and energy of atoms in an  OPV cell. Mike adjusts processing parameters in his models to control self-assembly (molecules arrange themselves into their lowest-energy state, creating a structure.) Experimenting with self-assembly processes allows Mike to identify methods of improving an OPV cell’s performance. Computational research like this can accelerate the development of new technologies like transparent and or flexible OPV solar cells. These improved solar cells can be used to provide power to electronic devices without plugging into the electrical grid. They could even revolutionize construction practices and promote greener, more energy-efficient buildings.

The Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering Encourages Leaders

Mike embraces adventure. After relocating from Iowa to Idaho and diving into a field of study he had recently discovered, Mike immersed himself in the materials world. He is an active member of the Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) Club and even served a term as the Club president. In this role, Mike quickly identified methods of helping fellow students. He established what is now a tradition in the MSMSE: weekly study sessions complete with free coffee and the standing offer to help students stay engaged. Graduate and undergraduate students have the opportunity to help each other with challenging coursework during these sessions. Simultaneously, they create a strong community of like-minded colleagues. Mike describes the MSE Club as a second family. He has formed great friendships with students beyond his research group and enjoys the many extracurricular activities hosted by the Club. “Finding a social network is key to a successful transition to a new university,” says Mike. “The MSE Club offers one of the best ways to participate in fun extracurricular activities, outreach, and professional development opportunities like resume workshops.”

Working in Dr. Jankowski’s research group has further launched Mike into the materials research network through participating in professional conferences and collaborating with researchers around the globe. “Presenting research findings and sharing ideas at conferences are vital components of my Ph.D. journey,” says Mike. “Collaborating with people who have similar interests opens up even more possibilities to stretch boundaries and further my research.” Mike is currently focused on conducting research to support his dissertation, which is the next step in his goal of earning a Ph.D. So far, Mike’s research has been published in the Journal of Physics: Conference Series and the Journal of Physical Chemistry C (primary author.)  A co-authored paper is currently under review for publication in the Journal of Theoretical and Computational Chemistry.

Mike plans to continue developing scientific software that improves research techniques. Ultimately, Mike is seeking a great career at a national laboratory where he can maximize his impact on the scientific community and society. His experience in the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering prepares him to succeed in this endeavor.

Dr. Elton Graugnard – NSF CAREER Awardee

Dr. Elton Graugnard

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $500,000 CAREER award to Dr. Elton Graugnard, Assistant Professor in the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering. The award, “Scalable Manufacturing of Two-dimensional Atomic Layer Materials for Energy-efficient Electronic Devices via Selective-area Atomic Layer Deposition,” aims to establish a new mode of manufacturing for high quality 2D nanomaterials. These 2D materials show promise for flexible and energy-efficient electronic devices, but there is not a good method for manufacturing them for use in electronic devices. This grant will fund research that has the potential to enable adoption of these new materials in the semiconductor industry, and supports continued improvements in electronic device performance. Areas for improvements include information storage capacity and computational power, while lowering energy demands of these devices.

Dr. Graugnard has been a faculty member in the Micron School of Materials Science and Engineering since 2009. The award, which focuses on atomically thin semiconducting materials, studies selected-area or seeded atomic layer deposition, a manufacturing technique used to deposit materials with high precision and uniformity. “Finding a way to interface 2D nanomaterials with existing manufacturing techniques has enormous potential for improved devices in the semiconductor industry,” remarked Dr. Graugnard. These materials also hold promise for quantum information processing devices, in alignment with the National Science Foundation’s Quantum Leap effort.

Dr. Claire Xiong – 2017 Scialog Fellow

Dr. Claire Xiong Receiving 2017 Scialog Fellow Award

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.

College of Engineering Professors Receive an IGEM Award to Collaborate with Local Industry

Nader Rafla and Peter Mullner

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.

Graduate Student Armen Kvryan

Armen Kvryan in front of SpaceX Rocket

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.