College students are often told to “shoot for the moon,” exploring their interests with ambitious plans and projects. This week, a team University of Utah engineering students are taking that advice to heart in a more literal way.
NASA’s Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-changing (BIG) Idea Challenge is an annual, nation-wide competition that gives college students the opportunity to play a pivotal role in the future of space exploration. In response to a yearly prompt that tasks participants to solve a specific space-based problem, teams of undergraduate and graduate engineering get to work developing creative and innovative concepts. After all project proposals are submitted, five to eight teams are selected to receive a combined total of $1.1 million to further build and develop their system, which they then present to at the BIG Idea Forum in the fall of that year.
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Titanium (Ti) metal, prized for its high strength-to-weight ratio, corrosion resistance and biocompatibility is a critical material in aerospace, defense, and medical applications, but its wider use is obstructed by excessively high costs.
That’s where Materials Sciences and Metallurgical Engineering Professor Zhigang Zak Fang comes into play. A recent recipient of the prestigious Humboldt Research Award, Fang has developed a breakthrough technology that can produce high-quality, low-carbon emitting titanium powder at a significantly reduced cost. Known as the Hydrogen Assisted Metallothermic Reduction (HAMR) process, the technology developed by Fang is based on the discovery of new science about the effects of hydrogen on the stability of Ti solid solutions with high oxygen content (up to 14wt%.)
Ling Zang, Professor in the John and Marcia Price College of Engineering’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Founded in London in 1841, the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) is the oldest scholarly society in its field and now boasts more than 54,000 members across the globe.
While any chemist can apply for membership in the Society, the RSC describes Fellows as its “most senior category of membership,” reserved for those who “hold positions of influence in our community and have invaluable experience, expertise and commitment to promoting the value of Chemical science.”
Two students, Allison Harward (B.S., Chemical Engineering candidate) and Jon Dromey (B.S., Mechanical Engineering candidate), from Prof. Michael Simpson’s research group each received scholarships worth $10,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Nuclear Leadership program. Harward and Dromey are two of only 92 such scholarships awarded nationwide this year and the only recipients from The University of Utah to receive such honors.
Harward has led experimental work on a project funded by the Idaho National Laboratory to develop means to process radioactive waste salt to support safe interim storage. She has determined a means to great reduce the volume of this waste and the process time compared to the state of the art. Additionally, she had authored or co-authored two journal papers, with a third currently under review. This summer she will be working at Bill Gates’ TerraPower nuclear reactor development company on molten salt reactor-supporting research.
Dromey has been working on an ARPA-E funded project to develop a zone refining process to recover actinides from spent metal fuel. He performs mechanical design and fabrication in addition to system testing to support the ARPA-E project. His work has been instrumental in successful completion of milestones related to building a system that can melt narrow regions of uranium-rich metal rods.
Congratulations to both.
In a world where renewables are the future of energy generation, researchers around the world are constantly chasing the best, most efficient technologies for each kind of clean energy source.
For solar photovoltaic energy generation, solar panels use semiconductor materials to convert light into electrical power. Each material technology has a different world record efficiency (which is always higher than what is achievable in full-sized commercial modules). Is the best material to use for solar panels silicon? Cadmium telluride? Or is it halide perovskite-based cells, which have caught the attention of many researchers of late? Academic and corporate scientists and engineers are spending billions of dollars researching and commercializing what they hope to be the best technologies.
University of Utah materials science and engineering professor Michael Simpson has received a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to develop a method of recycling spent fuel from existing commercial nuclear power plants using molten salt.
The U is one of only 12 recipients from the DOE’s ARPA-E CURIE program aimed at developing technology for commercializing recycling of spent oxide fuel. The technical goals of his project are to demonstrate nearly complete dissolution of spent oxide fuel in a molten salt followed by near complete electrochemical recovery of U/TRU that can be used to make new fuel for advanced nuclear reactors. Achieving complete dissolution of the fuel is key to enabling the process to be safeguarded against proliferation of U/TRU. The grant is over three years.
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Earlier this month, Allison Harward, Junior in Chemical Engineering (CE), Claire Decker, Junior in Materials Science & Engineering (MSE), and Collin Anderson, a Ph.D. candidate in Materials Science & Engineering, from Professor Michael Simpson’s Research Group were notified that they had been selected for funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s University Nuclear Leadership Program (UNLP). These are prestigious awards that are highly competitive for students seeking to pursue careers in support of nuclear energy.
The UNLP awarded only 61 undergraduate scholarships and 28 graduate fellowships this year and Harward, Decker, and Andersen were the only recipients to receive scholarship at the University of Utah. Harward and Decker were awarded one year, $10,000 scholarships to complete their undergraduate studies while Andersen was awarded a three year, $162,000 fellowship to complete his Ph.D. program in Materials Science and Engineering.
The three are actively putting their funding to use. Harward is currently playing a key role in supporting a project funded by Idaho National Laboratory to develop a new pathway to treating radioactive electrorefiner waste salt for storage. Decker previously supported this same project in addition to assisting with a project funded by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to improve the efficiency of purifying actinide metals. And, Andersen, who earned his B.S. in metallurgical engineering from the University of Utah last year, is currently supporting a project funded by Idaho National Laboratory to develop a hydriding process for recovering uranium from used Advanced Test Reactor U-Al fuel. Under support from UNLP, he plans to expand his research to include treatment of uranium silicide-based fuel.
Andersen and Harward presented their research at the 2021 Winter Meeting of the American Nuclear Society in Washington, D.C. while Harward presented her work at the Annual Meeting of American Institute of Chemical Engineers last November in Boston and Decker presented her research at the 2021 Materials in Nuclear Energy Systems (MiNES) meeting last fall in Pittsburgh.
Congratulations to Feng Liu, Ivan B. Cutler Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, who will be named a Distinguished Professor effective July 1. He will be recognized during the university’s commencement next month.
The title of Distinguished Professor is a rare and prestigious honor granted by the University of Utah to faculty who meet the highest standards of scholarship, international stature, and dedication to teaching and service.
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A major environmental concern about the use of nuclear reactors is what’s left behind — the nuclear waste from spent fuel rods. Where to dispose of this waste has been the source of much controversy.
But instead of just burying the spent fuel rods, what if you could somehow recycle them to be used again? University of Utah engineering researchers will be working with a team from the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) to develop an innovative yet simple process of recycling metal fuels for future advanced nuclear reactors. These reactors are designed to be safer than existing reactors, more efficient at producing energy, and cheaper to operate. The team was awarded a three-year, $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s ARPA-E program for the project.
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