Three Students from Simpson Research Group Win Competitive DOE Scholarships

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.

A Terrible Thing to Waste

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.


Dr. Liu named a 2021 Outstanding Referee by Physical Review

SALT LAKE CITY — Materials Science & Engineering Professor, Dr. Feng Liu, was named an Outstanding Referee for 2021 by the Physical Review journals. Dr. Liu is one of only 151 faculty members worldwide to be bestowed with this honor this year. This Outstanding Referee honor is a lifetime award and recognition.

Instituted in 2008, the Outstanding Referee program expresses appreciation for the essential work that anonymous peer reviewers do for our journals. Each year a small percentage of our 78,400 active referees are selected and honored with the Outstanding Referee designation. Selections are made based on the number, quality, and timeliness of referee reports as collected in a database over the last 40 years.

For a list of the 2021 honorees please click here.

Tiwari Named NAI Senior Member

Congratulations to University of Utah materials science and engineering professor Ashutosh Tiwari, who was elected a National Academy of Inventors (NAI) Senior Member for 2021. He is one of 63 luminaries from 36 institutions named to this year’s class and the only one from Utah.

“It is a great honor to be elected to the National Academy of Inventors as a Senior Member. Though this recognition has been granted to me, it was not possible without the creativity and high-quality research performed by my numerous students and postdocs over the last one and half decades,” said Tiwari. “I am also thankful to the College of Engineering and the University of Utah’s PIVOT Center for providing a conducive environment for high-quality research and innovation.”


Dr. Huiwen Ji joins the MSE Faculty in January 2021

The Materials Science & Engineering Department at the University of Utah is pleased to announce that Dr. Huiwen Ji will join the department as an assistant professor. She is a materials chemist working on establishing structure-property links in solid-state functional materials with an unconventional perspective. Though crystalline matters are often characterized by periodic order, of particular interest to her research is how correlated disorder and competing local forces give rise to unusual phenomena that are inaccessible to perfect crystals, yet are crucial for energy storage and many other applications. She approaches these scientific questions by coupling synthesis and property measurements with advanced total scattering and spectroscopic characterizations. Her ultimate goal is to design better materials through controlling disorder and even create flexible disorders that are adaptive to external stimuli.

Dr. Ji comes from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory where she was a research scientist in the Energy Storage & Distributed Resources Division. Her position was supported by the John S. Newman Fellowship funded by the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy of DOE. She was a postdoctoral associate in the MSE Department at UC Berkeley during 2016–2019. She obtained her Ph.D. in chemistry from Princeton University in 2014.

Dr. Ji will begin her post in January 2021

U Engineering to Work with Versatile Test Reactor

Engineers from the University of Utah’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering are working with a large team of researchers to prepare experiments for the U.S. Department of Energy’s upcoming Versatile Test Reactor to test various molten salt reactor technologies.

These experiments are part of just one research project that will take advantage of the VTR, which is designed to test fuels, materials and sensors for power reactors. While the VTR is going through a federal approval process and has not yet been built, projects such as the one the U’s MSE department is working on are already underway.

The Idaho National Laboratory has published a new story about what the U’s experiment will be about, which involves the MSE chair, Michael Simpson, and involves irradiating molten salt to see how it would change.

Click here to read the INL story.


The National Academy of Inventors has released a new video about the legacy of Gerald Stringfellow, University of Utah Distinguished Professor of both electrical and computer engineering and materials science and engineering.

The new video, “From Campus to Commerce,” profiles Stringfellow’s contributions to the development of light-emitting diodes, a technology that would benefit everything that uses LEDs from traffic lights to computer monitors.

Stringfellow developed a process called organometallic vapor-phase epitaxy for the growth of new semiconductor alloys in which aluminum, gallium, indium and phosphorous are deposited on a substrate to create red, orange, yellow and green LED crystals. This led to better handheld calculators that used red LEDs for the display. Stringfellow took his research to the University of Utah where he was hired as a professor in 1980. He made major conceptual advances in the field and would later publish a book on the process that has now become the bible for the science of growing LED crystals.


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.