Physics Students, Faculty Team with Drexel on $800,000 NSF-Funded Project

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Operating under an $800,000 National Science Foundation grant, Rowan University Department of Physics and Astronomy professors and undergraduate students are working in conjunction with Drexel Univers

Operating under an $800,000 National Science Foundation grant, Rowan University Department of Physics and Astronomy professors and undergraduate students are working in conjunction with Drexel University Materials Science and Engineering Department faculty and graduate students to develop new materials that may one day make lighter jet engines and electrical motors that work at higher temperatures or protect steel and other metals from corrosion.

Under the four-year NSF Focused Research Group Award, the Rowan and Drexel teams are investigating MAX phase materials, compounds that are related to the carbides or nitrides found on tools such as saw blades or drill bits. (MAX stands for M ? transition metals such as titanium and chromium, A ? A group elements such as silicon, aluminum and tin and X - carbon or nitrogen.)

MAX phase materials are a new class of tough, rigid materials that can be as hard as a sapphire yet can be cut with a hack saw, have high melting points and have high electrical conductivity.

The materials potentially can meet a wide range of needs, from providing electrical connections in motors to offering the high strength at high temperatures needed in jets to minimizing friction in micro devices.

?We?re looking at making new MAX materials in thin-film form, maybe a couple thousand atoms thick or roughly 1/1000th the thickness of a hair,? said Dr. Jeffrey Hettinger, Rowan?s chair of Physics and Astronomy and a Cherry Hill resident.

During the four years for which the project is funded, about 10 Rowan students are expected to work under the direction of Hettinger and Springfield (Delaware County), Pa., resident Dr. Sam Lofland, a physics professor.

This semester, the Rowan team is looking at the electronic properties of bulk materials made at Drexel and is starting to fabricate the thin films, concentrating on getting the right recipe. The work has its roots in a project from five years ago, for which a Drexel professor tapped into Rowan?s expertise to investigate electrical properties of these materials. This has progressed to other investigations and has culminated with ?growing? films on a substrate, much like depositing silver on glass to make a mirror.

?Focused Research Group Awards are rather prestigious awards through which the NSF recognizes a research team is ?the? group to investigate a particular set of materials,? Lofland said.
The grant is the first of its kind at Rowan and it has increased the University?s international appeal for collaborative work: two Swedish universities and a French government laboratory also are involved in the project.

It is the design of new materials that pushes technology forward, and interdisciplinary research is required to tackle the complex problems of today, Lofland said. The present thin film work is an excellent example of how physicists and engineers pull together their different skill sets not only to understand the properties of materials but also to make them better.

Students involved with the project have been/are:

Tim Meehan (senior physics major, Glassboro)

Aaron Bryant (senior physics major, Eighty Four, Pa.)

Drexel graduate student Ted Scabarozi, a Rowan alumnus. (Physics, 2001, Mantua)

Brian Seaman (Physics, 2003, Hazlet)

Joe Palma (Physics, 2003, Mullica Hill)

Keith Harrell (Physics, 2004, Franklinville)

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