Discover the materials of the future … in 30 seconds or less

Since the dawn of history, the materials available to man have defined the very substance of society. The Stone Age gave way to the Bronze Age and eventually to the Iron and Steel Ages. We now enter the Information Age where technologists must balance a dynamic harmony between traditional approaches and transformational new tools. In this fascinating talk, Dr. Taylor Sparks will explain how he is working to reduce the trial and error of new materials discovery.

Dr. Taylor Sparks is an Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Utah. He is originally from Utah and an alumni of the department he now teaches in. He did his MS in Materials at UCSB and his PhD in Applied Physics at Harvard University and then did a postdoc in the Materials Research Laboratory at UCSB. He is currently the Director of the Materials Characterization Lab at the University of Utah and teaches classes on ceramics, materials science, characterization, and technology commercialization.

His current research centers on the discovery, synthesis, characterization, and properties of new materials for energy applications. He is a pioneer in the emerging field of materials informatics whereby big data, data mining, and machine learning are leveraged to solve challenges in materials science. When he’s not in the lab you can find him running his podcast “Materialism” or canyoneering with his 3 kids in southern Utah. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.

Learn more at

Ebrahiminia awarded second place at the Lithium Ion Batteries Symposium

The 236th Electrochemical Society meeting was held in Atlanta during the week of October 13-17, 2019. Mahsa Ebrahiminia, an MSE Ph.D. student from Dr. Dmitry Bedrov group, presented her latest work on transport and mechanical properties of model solid electrolyte interphases (SEI) that she studied using atomistic molecular dynamics simulations and was awarded the second place at the Lithium Ion Batteries Symposium.

SEI is one of the key components in the Li-ion batteries that, on the one hand, protects electrolytes from electrochemical decomposition and suppresses the growth of Li dendrites, but on the other hand, creates additional resistance for Li-ion transport between electrodes. Mahsa’s simulations provide a molecular scale insight into mechanisms of Li-ion transport and structure-property relationships that hard to obtain from experiments but are badly needed in order to design new materials for next generation of batteries.

Congratulations Mahsa!

Sara J. Wilson recognized for contributions to department and university

SALT LAKE CITY — Sara J. Wilson, Administrative Manager for the Department of Materials Science & Engineering, was recognized for her excellence in contributions to the department and university with a 2019 Academic and Student Affairs District Staff Excellence Award. She received this award in a ceremony held on Wednesday, August 21st at the Thomas S. Monson Center.

Sara has served as the Administrative Manager for the Department of Metallurgical Engineering since 2014 and has taken the role of Administrative Manager over the Materials Science & Engineering graduate program effective this July. Sara has been an invaluable member of the departments, working extremely well with students, faculty, and staff.

Prof. Michael Simpson, former metallurgy chair and current MSE chair, praised Sara at the ceremony for her dedication to the department and ability to effectively manage it. Sara will play an instrumental role as we work tirelessly to merge the former metallurgical engineering department in with MSE.

Metallurgy Ph.D. Now Makes Medical Radioisotopes

During his Ph.D. studies in the Department of Metallurgical Engineering at the University of Utah, Dr. Milan Stika studied molten salt electrochemistry under Prof. Michael Simpson. They worked on methods for measuring concentrations of actinides in molten salts used for applications such as nuclear reactors and nuclear fuel reprocessing. After a brief stint working for Flibe Energy on development of molten salt fueled nuclear reactors, Milan now works at Niowave, Inc., a company that produces radioisotopes used for medical diagnostics and cancer treatment. The company has a great team of accelerator physicists, nuclear engineers, and radiochemists supporting its mission. As a radiochemist, Milan works on projects that deal with separation of individual radioactive elements.

Niowave irradiates uranium targets to induce fission which creates a variety of useful fission products. The target is then dissolved so that fission products like molybdenum-99 can be harvested. Uranium is first pulled away from the rest of the elements using solvent extraction. It is then recycled into a new target. The elements useful for medical applications are then separated from each other using ion exchange resins and other methods.

Niowave also irradiates radium targets to produce actinium-225, a useful medical isotope along with other alpha emitters for targeted alpha therapy. Actinium is separated from radium and other products of the radium decay chain. Niowave is currently the only US private company producing actinium-225.

According to Milan, “the Department of Metallurgical Engineering was instrumental in helping me prepare for this exciting job in the nuclear sector by offering relevant coursework, networking opportunities, and advisor guidance.”

Metallurgical and Materials Science Departments Merge

Effective July 1, the University of Utah’s departments of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) and Metallurgical Engineering (METE) have merged into a single academic department administered jointly by the College of Engineering and College of Mines and Earth Sciences.

This change has been driven by the joint efforts of College of Engineering Dean Richard B. Brown and College of Mines and Earth Sciences Dean Darryl Butt and widely supported by the faculty of both previous departments.

The motivation for this merger was to create one of the best departments of materials science and engineering in the country. The new academic unit, called the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, will have strengths in metals, ceramics, polymers, electrochemistry, nanotechnology, biocompatible materials, semiconductors,  hydro-, electro- and pyrometallurgy, and mineral processing.

Metallurgical engineering professor and department chair, Michael Simpson, has become the chair of the new department. Professor Feng Liu stepped down as chair of the former MSE Department after serving for 7 ½ years.

Materials Science and Engineering Chair Michael Simpson

“This merger is really the best possible path forward for the students and faculty of the two previous departments and the university. Together, we can elevate the University of Utah’s materials program to be one of the best in the country — attracting new investments from industry and government while also attracting the best and brightest students,” said Simpson. “Having the department connected to both the College of Engineering and College of Mines and Earth Sciences puts us in an excellent position to have strong impact over all of campus and promote the idea of One U.”

Any faculty members who had adjunct or research professor appointments in either of these departments have an adjunct or research professor appointment in the new department. Students in the MSE department will enjoy all of the benefits of being members of both COE and CMES and have the opportunity to complete their degrees under current requirements. The faculty will evaluate options for consolidating the bachelor’s and graduate degrees in Materials Sciences and Engineering and in Metallurgical Engineering into unified degrees with different tracks, but current students will have the option of graduating under their current programs.

Dean Brown congratulated Liu on his job as the MSE chair, saying, “Feng is a model researcher, an excellent teacher, an entrepreneur, and a talented musician!  It has been a pleasure for me to work closely with him through this time.”

Since joining U. in 2000, Liu has developed into one of the world’s leading experts in the fields of surface science and epitaxial growth of thin films, and the theory of nanostructures, graphene and topological materials. He won the prestigious Senior Humboldt Award in 2008 and recently was awarded the university’s Distinguished Scholarly and Creative Research Award

An associate chair for MSE will soon be selected and announced. The main office for the new MSE department will be in CME Room #304. The metallurgical engineering department office in the William Browning Building, Room #412 will remain open to provide office support for faculty, staff, and students. The new MSE department will occupy space in both the Browning and CME buildings. There are currently no plans to change class or laboratory locations.

This merger is a major undertaking by the faculty and staff of the previous departments and will take time to be completed. For any questions or concerns, please contact Michael Simpson at or one of the administrative managers, Angela Nelson at or Sara Wilson at

The website for the new department is Town hall meetings for students will soon be scheduled, including one meeting for graduate students in the summer and another for undergraduate students at the beginning of the fall semester.

*NOTE* The new online home for MET E is the previous MET E website is temporarily available online for two months at .

Dr. Sparks to speak at TEDxSalt Lake City

The University of Utah Department of Materials Science and Engineering is proud to announce that associate professor Taylor Sparks has been chosen to be a speaker at this year’s TEDxSaltLakeCity event on Sept. 21 at Kingsbury Hall on the university campus in Salt Lake City.

Sparks, whose research is focused on new materials for energy applications such as batteries, thermoelectrics, thermal barrier coatings and more, will be speaking on materials informatics, the process of using big data and machine learning to help researchers solve materials science challenges. The talk, titled “Striking a New Balance in Materials Discovery,” will dive into about how scientists can leverage information stored in materials data and compare that to how they traditionally discover new materials, which can largely be from trial-and-error.

TEDxSaltLake City describes itself as the “Wasatch Front’s leading platform for citizens to present and explore their ideas, stories, and creative solutions.” This year’s lineup will include 14 speakers and six musical acts.

Feng Liu

Liu recognized with Faculty Award

Congratulations to University of Utah electrical and computer engineering professor Cynthia Furse and materials science and engineering chair Feng Liu for receiving the Distinguished Teaching Award and the Distinguished Scholarly and Creative Research Award, respectively.

Both were recognized with the campus-wide honors during the 150th annual University of Utah Commencement as well as the College of Engineering’s convocation on May 3.

Feng Liu — Distinguished Scholarly and Creative Research Award

Since joining University of Utah in 2000, Prof. Feng Liu has developed into one of the world’s leading experts in the fields of surface science and epitaxial growth of thin films, and the theory of nanostructures, graphene and topological materials. He won the prestigious Senior Humboldt Award in 2008 citing: “His work pioneered our understanding of the atomistic mechanisms underlying epitaxial growth of thin films and semiconductor nanostructures.” In 2011, Prof. Liu was elected Fellow of the American Physical Society, based on: “His contribution to theory of nanostructures and strain-induced nanoscale Self-assembly.” “In recent years, he pioneered the fields of organic and surface-based topological materials,” said one nominator. “Prof. Liu has been running an active and well-funded research program which has become one of the largest in the College of Engineering (the group reached 20 people at one point). His research has been steadily supported by federal agencies (DOE, NSF and DOD), the State of Utah and industry. He is among the few people who has been simultaneously funded for two separate DOE-BES core programs, ‘Materials Synthesis and Processing’ and ‘Physical behavior of Materials’ (funded continuously so far for 20 years with an annual budget of $300K).”

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2019 COE Convocation

The 2019 University of Utah College of Engineering convocation is once again upon us, and it will be an exciting time for graduates who will move on to the next phase of their lives. Congratulations to all!

Click here for information about convocation, which will be held Friday, May 3, at 7 p.m. at the Jon Huntsman Event Center. Check-in begins at 5:30 p.m., and the procession begins at 6:40 p.m. For those family members who cannot attend the event, go to the college’s main website at to view a live stream.

*** Please note: If you are walking, please be aware that this program is scheduled to end around 8:45 p.m. Out of respect for others who have worked so hard for this day, all graduates are expected to remain seated until the end of the program. Travel and dinner plans should be made accordingly.

Warnock Engineering Building

COE Rises in Rankings

The University of Utah’s College of Engineering continues to rise as one of the nation’s most respected engineering institutions, according to U.S. News & World Report, whose rankings of graduate schools was released March 12. According to the 2020 rankings, the U College of Engineering’s overall graduate program jumped three spots to No. 55.

Meanwhile, chemical engineering’s graduate program rose five spots to 56th, civil engineering climbed two spots to 65th, mechanical engineering moved up one spot to 65th, and materials science and engineering had the largest gain with seven spots to 57th.

The rankings are based on a series of scores from surveys with deans, corporate recruiters, employers and company contacts, as well as GRE test scores from master’s and doctoral students, acceptance rates, faculty-to-student ratios, research expenditures, doctoral degrees awarded and more.

The college also has ranked high in other areas. According to the latest ASEE Databook, the College of Engineering is ranked 29th in the country in total tenure-track faculty, 36th in research expenditures, and 40th in doctoral degrees awarded.

The U’s College of Engineering has experienced tremendous growth in the last two decades with research expenditures rising 280 percent since 2002 (with $95 million in engineering-related expenditures in 2018) and the number of Ph.D. graduates rising 193 percent. Tenure track faculty has also grown with 192 faculty members in 2018, a 73-percent increase since 2002.

U Celebrates Research Milestone

Due to the extraordinary efforts of faculty, students and administrators from colleges and departments across campus, the U celebrated its biggest year in research funding ever—$515 million was awarded to projects addressing a wide range of issues, from non-opioid painkillers to geothermal energy in Utah.

Scholarly activity is also on the rise—members of the U family won more awards, received more citations, attended more conferences and published more books and journal articles than last year.

The Vice President for Research’s Office premiered “What One U can Do,” a video honoring the research community’s outstanding accomplishments during the State of the U address on Jan. 7 by President Ruth V. Watkins.

Click below to see the new video where you’ll spot many people and places from the College of Engineering.