Research Projects

Below are the focus areas of our REU


Mesoporous Thermoelectric Materials Enabled by Block Copolymer Templating and Nanoscale Self-Assembly

Prof. Michael T. Pettes, Mechanical Engineering

pettes-resConverting waste heat to power has a technical potential of 14.6 GW with market penetration estimated at 2.9 GW, and since over 40% of the total potential for waste heat is in the petroleum refining sector, conversion of this energy to electrical power will have the largest impact, with a market penetration estimated on the order of $80B. Thermoelectric energy conversion holds the potential to convert this heat directly into electricity, however, without the development of new material systems with controlled nanoscale size distributions, these technologies will be limited to efficiencies below 20% of Carnot efficiency.

The objective of this REU project is to develop mesoporous architectures of chalcogenide-family thermoelectrics and evaluate their performance. Students will be directly involved in the synthesis, characterization, and thermophysical property measurements. Upon completion of this project, REU students will have been instrumental in transforming a new scientific field, mesoporous thermoelectrics, and will have demonstrated four new and scalable nanostructured thermoelectric materials capable of increasing the energy conversion efficiency of current thermoelectric technologies by at least 85–105%.

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Magnetoelectric Nanocomposite Thin Films

Prof. Menka Jain, Physics

small-graphicMagnetoelectric (ME) materials are those in which there is a strong coupling between magnetic moment and electric field (or conversely, electric polarization and magnetic field). An alternative to single phase ME materials, which suffer from low ME coupling, is to combine piezoelectric materials with magnetostrictive matials in a single device. Such composite materials can achieve high ME coupling at room temperature and will enable new high-efficiency vibrational energy harvesting applications, in addition to magnetic field sensors and electrically and magnetically tunable radio frequency devices. Additionally, one way to circumvent the problem of high leakage currents is to nanostructure the composite, which reduces the amount of magnetostrictive material nesseary for high ME coupling.

The objective of this REU project is to use solution-based techniques to synthesize nanocomposite ME thin-films comprising of piezolectric and magnetostrictive materials and study the effect of processing conditions on the ME coupling via strain transfer between the two phases. Students will be involved in the synthesis and charaterization of these ME composite thin-films. By the competition of this project, the REU students involved will have developed extensive experimental scientific research skills, and significantly contributed to the scientific knowledge in the field of ME materials. The ME composite thin-films synthesized for this project, if successful, are anticipated to demonstrate the strongest ME coupling observed in any thin-film composite, owing to the nanoscale control over the distribution of the respective phases.

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How Dynamic Adhesion of Erythrocytes Contributes in Vaso-Occlusive Episodes in Sickle Cell Disease Patients

Prof. George Lykotrafitis, Mechanical Engineering

ge-lyko-researchMillions worldwide live with sickle cell disease (SCD), the most common inherited blood disorder. SCD is due to a single point mutation in the -globin gene, resulting in the production of abnormal hemoglobin (HbS). In the deoxygenated state, HbS polymerizes to form relatively stiff filaments, forcing red blood cells (RBCs) to assume an irregular shape. It is these “sickled” RBCs that are thought to cause vaso-occlusive episodes (VOEs), which are the hallmark of the disease, by occluding small blood vessels, resulting in microvascular infarction, widespread organ dysfunction, and early mortality.

The objective of this REU project is to quantitatively investigate the mechanism of RBC adhesion and vaso-occlusion in blood from patients with sickle cell disease during crisis and at steady state and compare to healthy individuals. Students participating in these experiments will have the chance to realize how modern developments in engineering can help us to study human diseases at a very fundamental level.

Lykotrafitis Group Web | Top of Page

Generation of electrical power from deformation of a nanofiber mat/patch of an electroactive polymer 

Prof. Thanh Duc Nguyen, Mechanical Engineering


The human body exhibits exciting and important physical activities such as electrical impulses from nerves, and deformations from heart and lung tissues. Such signals are inherent to biological functions and physiology. They also signify the health status of cells, tissues and organs. To monitor these physical activities and employ them to repair damaged organs or treat diseases, it is necessary to develop devices (e.g. biosensors, bioactuators, and drug carriers) and functional materials which are biocompatible and can be easily integrated with biological systems. As biological systems are often soft and built upon tiny curvy cells, these devices and materials need to be flexible and constructed at small scales. Ideally, they should be also biodegradable so that they can self-vanish and leave no harm after finishing their tasks. Our lab focuses on the fundamental study and development of biointegrated materials at nano- and micro-scales and their device applications for drug-delivery, biosensing and tissue engineering.

Specifically, the objective of this REU project is to develop a nanofiber mat/patch of an electroactive polymer which can generate electrical power from deformation and vice versa. These nanomats/patches will be employed to monitor vital deformational signals in hearts, lungs and other organs, and also harvest such deformation to generate useful electricity which can be used to power other medical implants or to stimulate tissue regeneration.

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Nanoscale Electro-Thermal Effects in Next-Generation Phase Change Memory Devices

Profs. Helena Silva and Ali Gokirmak, Electrical & Computer Engineering

nanoscale-researchElectronic and thermal transport studies at the nanoscale have a direct impact on electronic device design including memory devices and thermoelectric energy conversion units. This is an important issue in next-generation memory technologies, and the UConn Nanoelectronics Laboratory led by Profs. Silva and Gokirmak has a collabotive effort with IBM Watson Research Center where nanoscale phase change memory devices are fabricated.

The objective of this REU project is to identify mechanisms governing electrical and thermal energy dissipation mechanisms in next-generation phase change memory devices. Undergraduate students involved with this site will design and implement experiments to characterize electronic, thermal and thermoelectric transport of Ge2Sb2Te5 phase change materials at the nanoscale.

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Computational Study of Strain Effects on Electronic Properties of 2D Materials

Prof. Avinash M. Dongare, Materials Science & Engineering

graphThe ability to synthesize stable atomically thin two dimensional (2D) crystals and their ability to be used as building blocks for the next-generation of miniaturized electronic devices has led to an extraordinary amount of interest from both theoretical and experimental investigations. The transition from the indirect-to-direct electronic band gap at monolayer dimensions shows significant promise for applications as channel materials in field-effect transistors (FETs). The structure of TMDs consists of hexagonal layers of transition-metal (M) atoms (Mo, W, Nb, Re, Ni, or V) sandwiched between two layers of chalcogen (X) atoms (S, Se, or Te) with a MX2 stoichiometry. The understanding of the links between interface structure, stacking sequence and electronic properties in 2D materials will allow for the possibility of unprecedented performance improvements for the miniaturized devices.

The objective of this REU project is to investigate the electronic properties of various 2D heterostructures using density functional theory (DFT) calculations. The proposed research program will undertake important tasks to gain a fundamental understanding of the relationship between the atomic scale structure, chemistry, strain and the electronic properties of various configurations of stacked 2D materials. REU students will identify the various effects that are associated with changes in atomic level structure, chemistry, and strains for TMDs.

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A Novel Inkjet-Printing Platform for Patterning Nanomaterials


Prof. Anson Ma, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering

Inkjet printing is an additive manufacturing method capable of depositing a wide variety of organic and inorganic materials to create planar patterns and 3D. Inkjet printing is an additive process, offering advantages in terms of versatility, speed, cost, and environmental footprint. For instance, metallic and carbon nanoparticles can be used to create conductive patterns for consumer electronics, such as smart phones, computers, and displays, as well as novel wearable electronics for athlete training and medical rehabilitation. However, depositing nanomaterials using inkjet printing over large areas with precision and consistency still remains a major challenge.

The objective of this REU project is to advance the fundamental understanding of the fluid properties of inks containing nanoparticles, with the goal to develop a reliable inkjet-printing platform for nanomaterials. The findings of this project will enhance our capabilities
to create and manipulate nanoparticle-carrying drops with precision for materials fabrication and additive
manufacturing. Such capabilities are critical to ensuring performance of printed nanomaterials. The students involved in this REU project will become well versed in fluid properties, inkjet printing, and the properties of printed nanomaterials.

A. Ma Group Web | Top of Page

Nanoclay-Reinforced Fire Retardant Nanofibers


Prof. Jason Lee, Mechanical Engineering

Low cost nanomaterials such as nanoclays can drastically enhance the thermal stability of polymers. They have even been applied to ablative applications, with high heat flux and pressure environments. Similar use of nanoclay and fire retardants have been attempted and applied to nanofibers. Current fire protective clothing is built with multiple layers. These layers provide thermal barriers and moisture dissipation. A single fiber can be processed with these multiple layers. An outer layer would create a char while the inner layers continue to provide a significant thermal layer. By building a polymer nanocomposite layer over a nanofiber using coaxial electrospinning the benefits of both may be achieved.

The objective of this REU project is to identify a polymer nanocomposite formulation and process to form a multilayer fiber with a nanofiber as the inner layer. The findings of the REU students will continue to develop the field of polymer nanocomposite fibers for thermal applications. For each task, students will learn material processing and characterization techniques.

J. Lee Group Web | Top of Page

Mechanical Characterization of Materials at Small Length Scales

Prof. Seok-Woo Lee, Materials Science & Engineering

For the reliable design of mechanical devices with micro- or nano-sized materials, nanotechnology has always called for a fundamental understanding of the mechanical properties of materials at small length scales. Therefore, it becomes more important not only to design nanostructured materials with the optimum mechanical properties (nanofabrication), but also to develop a new experimental capability to measure their mechanical properties (nanomechanical characterization). Thus, the next generation of experimental mechanics research for ‘true’ engineering applications should add the complexity of environmental changes, notably temperature. This is particularly important for space or marine applications, however characterization methods are not widely available.

The objective of this REU project is to develop fundamental insights into nanomechanical properties of single crystalline metals at various temperatures in order to design nanosized metals with tailorable mechanical properties. Students will be able to learn equipment design, nanofabrication, nanomechanical characterization, and stress-strain data analysis at the forefront of the “mechanics of materials” field through the following efforts. The results will include the stress-strain data of single crystalline metallic nanopillars at various temperatures and scanning electron microscope images of deformed nanopillars. The results will provide the insight in fundamental understanding of nanomechanical properties of single crystalline metals at various temperatures. In the end, the data will be a key resource to design nanosized metals with desired mechanical properties.

S.-W. Lee Group Web | Top of Page