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UDRI Emerging as 'Cinderella' of Advanced Materials

UDRI Emerging as 'Cinderella' of Advanced Materials

From its modest roots in a $10,200 Air Force contract to study flight-loads data in 1949, the University of Dayton and its Research Institute have emerged as a driving force in materials research and development — laying the groundwork to help keep “Ohio” a buzzword even after the 2004 presidential race is over.

According to the newest research and development statistics from the National Science Foundation, UDRI has for the first time taken the number two spot in materials research and development among all universities and colleges in the United States, including premier research institutions such as MIT and Georgia Tech, moving ahead of Ohio State University to take the top seat in materials in the state.

In federal dollars alone, UDRI took more than 7 percent of the entire allotment of $262 million in materials funds distributed to 627 colleges and universities included in the NSF report. And among Catholic colleges, the University retains its number one status in the nation for all nonmedical research, materials and otherwise.

According to the academic research and development reports published annually by the NSF, UDRI has for the last four years ranked number one in Ohio and number two in the nation in materials research funded by the federal government. In the latest report, the Research Institute also moved into second place for materials research sponsored by all levels of government as well as industry. Federal sponsors include the Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency; industry sponsors include Boeing, General Motors and General Electric.

The NSF news came on the heels of the Research Institute’s report of another record-breaking year in research with more than $65 million in contract dollars in fiscal year 2004. That figure is up 20 percent from 2003, when UDRI broke the $50 million mark for the first time with $54 million in sponsored research.

In Dayton for a recent visit by President Bush, Rep. Mike Turner praised the Research Institute for its successes. “As a lifelong Daytonian and University of Dayton graduate, I appreciate it for the tremendous community asset that it is,” Turner said. “Working closely with researchers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, UDRI has already accomplished a great deal in paving the way for a high-tech economic base in the state, including helping to launch an Ohio-based business in nanomaterials. Looking forward, UDRI will play an even more critical role in bringing high-tech economic development to Dayton and all of Ohio.”

Materials Nanotechnology at UDRI

UDRI, which is nearing its 50th year as a self-supporting division of the University of Dayton, specializes in structures, fuels and energy, aerospace mechanics, information technology, materials and, in recent years, materials nanotechnology. The Institute pioneered the use of several forms of microscopy to study elements at the nanoscale — about the size of five to 10 atoms. The ability to see and modify materials at this level is critical to all other areas of nanotechnology, which scientists claim will bring tremendous benefits to health care, manufacturing, communication, infrastructure and more.

Working in collaboration with scientists at WPAFB, area businesses and other Ohio universities, UD will play a key role in creating an internationally recognized center of nanomaterials research and development in Dayton, said Mickey McCabe, director of the Research Institute. “The University had the foresight to understand the need to get in on the ground floor of nanotechnology,” McCabe said. “By the mid 90’s, when nanotechnology was becoming a catch phrase in the research community, UDRI had already licensed its first nanomaterials technology to Hybrid Plastics.” That technology, used to create a new generation of “superplastics,” was named one of the 100 most technologically significant products in 2000 by R&D magazine.

The University recently took a significant step to fortify and expand its position in materials by recruiting Liming Dai, a premier scholar and researcher, to lead research and education in nanomaterials at UD and the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. A state-of-the-art nano engineering, science and technology lab in UD’s new science center is being readied for new equipment.

Other significant strides in nanomaterials in the last year include:

  • In January, UDRI licensed another nanotechnology to an Ohio-based company. NanoSperse in Akron is now in full production of nanomaterial-reinforced polymers that are lighter, stronger and more durable than other composite polymers — as well as being thermally and electrically conductive. The technology — lauded by Ohio’s Department of Development as the first of its kind affordable enough for even small business use — has countless applications in aerospace, electronics, equipment manufacturing and automotive industries.
  • Working in collaboration, scientists from UDRI and AFRL’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate have developed plastics that, after being deformed, can spring back into shape when heated. Mixing carbon nanotubes — microscopic tubes of carbon atoms that are stronger by weight than steel — with polymers creates “shape-memory” polymers that respond to heat, electricity and infrared light. The researchers, whose work was published in the February 2004 issue of Nature Materials, believe shape-memory polymers will be used in practical applications within five years — from personal use, such as eyeglass frames, to outer space, such as large structures that need to be packaged for launch and unfurled later.
  • In the magnetics lab, researchers continue to break their own world records in nanocomposite magnet energy levels. Nanocomposite magnets are stronger but lighter, tougher and more corrosion-resistant than traditional magnets and, because of reduced rare-earth content, are less expensive to produce. They will enable faster and smaller computer hard drives, more efficient hybrid and hydrogen-powered automobiles and improved communication, electronic and medical devices, such as medical imaging devices with superior detection capability. The magnetics team, which made news and was recognized at the International Magnetics Conference in 2003 for achieving 35 out of a possible 100 MGOe (a magnet power measurement), has reached the 50 MGOe range.
  • Researchers in polymer engineering developed “NanoSphalt,” a carbon nanofiber and fiberglass composite they used to pave a model bridge. The nanofibers bring an entirely new property to fiberglass and other polymer composites – the ability to conduct electricity – which opens the door for new applications for lightweight but strong materials that are inherently not conductive. On roadways, for instance, a nanomaterial mix could be used to help keep pavement snow- and ice-free in winter; a deflective “skin” could be applied to aircraft to prevent damage from a lightning strike. The material was demonstrated at the Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering’s annual conference in May, when researchers lit a 75-watt bulb by running current through the model bridge.

McCabe attributes the stability and continued growth of the Research Institute to dedicated researchers who have excelled in customer service. “We’ve developed a reputation for excellent research and innovative, cost-effective approaches to problem solving,” he said. “That reputation keeps established customers coming back time after time and allows us to attract new customers every year.”

October 7, 2004


News and Communication

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