Jumpstarting a Career
by Laura Walikainen
The National Science Foundation's prestigious Faculty Early CAREER Development Program supports and encourages new faculty members by providing funding for their research interests.
Michigan Tech has seven faculty members currently receiving funding from this program. Four other faculty members have received this award in the past. The CAREER program focuses on educators who are most likely to be future leaders in their field. The award selection is based on a new faculty member's career- development plans and how these plans combine research and education in their university setting. CAREER Award winners are given a strong base from which they can begin a successful, lifelong career.
Improving Brittle Material Machining
Michele Miller (mechanical engineering)
Brittle materials such as ceramic, glass, and silicon have a number of applications, but they are expensive to machine commercially, according to associate professor Michele Miller (ME-EM). So Miller is studying techniques to improve brittle material machining, namely grinding processes and ways to improve a grinding wheel's performance.
The first technique is called vibration-assisted grinding, a process that vibrates the brittle materials at a high frequency.
"Vibration-assisted grinding has a number of benefits such as lowered force, lowered temperature, and sometimes less wear on machining tools," said Miller. Water-jet-assisted grinding is the second technique Miller is studying. In this process, a jet of water is used to clean away debris and dull grits from the grinding wheel.
"Grinding hard brittle material makes the wheel deteriorate quickly," said Miller. "So cleaning away the debris and dull grits with the jet of water promotes consistent performance over time."
The final technique to improve grinding processes for the brittle materials is to design the ideal grinding wheel.
"The outside edge of a grinding wheel contains tiny diamond grits, which are imbedded in a plastic or metal layer called the binder," explained Miller. "We'll study how quickly both the binder and the diamond wear away in order to design a wheel that wears away just fast enough so that it always stays sharp."
Improving Computing Performance
Brian Davis (electrical/computer engineering)
In today's world of ever-changing computing technology, Brian Davis is trying to discover ways to make computers of tomorrow faster than those of today. Davis, an assistant professor in the electrical and computer engineering department, is researching two aspects of the design of modern computers and workstations.
Davis's first goal is to explore alternatives to the current interconnect topology found on most computers. The interconnection topology is the network of wires and protocols that allow the multitude of components that comprise a modern computer to communicate. He plans to use simulations to look at newer, faster potential computer configurations.
"I'm trying to show, using simulation, that systems with different interconnect and policy choices have improved performance over today's computers," said Davis.
Second, Davis will use memory control policy prediction as a way to improve the performance in today's computers. He hopes to accomplish this by making changes to the finite state machine at the memory controller level in computers using current interconnection topologies.
Receiving the CAREER Award has helped enabled Davis to take on this project. "I'm very thankful I got the award," Davis said. "I think it is an appropriate area to be researching."
Creating Continuous Night Sky Cameras
Robert Nemiroff (physics)
Robert Nemiroff knows how to have fun with astrophysics. Nemiroff, who is an associate professor in the physics department, has been able to come up with interesting and entertaining ways to conduct his research on understanding the temporal universe.
Nemiroff has helped establish and sponsor the "Great Debates in Astronomy" at the Smithsonian, including a Web site (http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/debate/). Topics for these debates include the nature and cosmology of the Universe and dark matter and energy. The debates are based on the original Great Debate in 1920 when two famous astronomers debated the scale of the universe.
Nemiroff was also instrumental in creating the www.concam.net site. This site contains pictures of the night sky live from Continuous Cameras (ConCams) located in observatories in Arizona, Hawaii, California, and Israel. Nemiroff has participated in all phases of this project, from conceiving the cameras and concept, to building the cameras, to distributing them around the world. From these cameras, Nemiroff and his colleagues have been able to monitor the stars in our sky, looking for new variables.
The Astronomy Picture of the Day Web site (http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html) has proven to be Nemiroff"s most popular project to date. The site gets one million hits a week and features pictures from independent photographers, news sources, and images collected from different satellites.
Controlling Distributed Computing
Jean Mayo (computer science)
The Global Positioning System (GPS) is mainly known through its use by travelers and airplane pilots. But GPS systems may now help Jean Mayo solve the problem of monitoring distributed computations over wide area networks. Mayo, an assistant professor of computer science, looks forward to finding a new solution to this persistent problem.
It is important to know the state a distributed computation is in at a point in time, she says, in order to ensure the computation, or the system it is controlling, is performing correctly. But it is difficult to ascertain this state because the clocks in computer systems run independently. Software and hardware approaches to clock synchronization have existed for a long time. Yet, these solutions have not been able to provide tight clock synchronization among the computers of wide-area networks. The GPS system provides a new solution to this long-standing problem.
"I'm looking at ways to apply the global time base that's provided by synchronization via GPS-based hardware to monitoring and controlling widely distributed computations," explained Mayo. "Receiving this award has allowed this research to progress more quickly and enabled us to explore new applications of a global time base in widely-distributed computations."
Behavior of Clouds
Raymond Shaw (physics)
One could say that Raymond Shaw is a man with his head in the clouds. But it's all in the name of research as Shaw, an assistant professor of physics, studies the formation, evolution, and dissipation of clouds in order to better understand their behavior.
"The motivation for this research is the fact that on so many levels, from day to day weather to global climate, our atmospheric conditions are based on the type, amount and lifetime of clouds," Shaw said.
Shaw uses various types of lab studies and computational work to conduct his research. One method involves studying individual particles of clouds in a levitation chamber to measure their optical properties, see how they react to chemicals and to see how they grow. By looking at these individual particles, Shaw hopes to apply the knowledge he gains to the entire body of a cloud. Shaw is also looking at air turbulence in clouds by studying groups of particles in a flow chamber and recording their spatial distributions and interactions. He will look at how these behaviors affect how light propagates through clouds and how rain is formed by particle collisions.
Forming Metallic Glass Alloys
Doug Swenson (materials science/engineering)
Aluminum the consistency of toothpaste being formed into fenders. Plutonium rendered safe, immobilized in artificial rock. It may sound like the stuff of a futuristic television show, but to Doug Swenson, assistant professor of metallurgical and materials engineering, these are basically thermodynamics problems.
Swenson's research looks at alloys that are formed into metallic glasses. These are not conventional alloys; picture "window glass" when you think of metallic glasses. Like window glass, metallic glasses have randomly-arranged atoms and these glasses soften as they are heated.
This property makes metallic glasses potentially attractive to manufacturers. In principle, by heating aluminum base metallic glasses to a temperature at which they are soft, auto manufacturers could rapidly make high-strength, lightweight metal parts by such inexpensive methods as stamping and injection molding. Right now, unfortunately, you can't have a very thick piece of aluminum for this to work. For most alloys, including all known aluminum base alloys, tremendously high cooling rates are required to turn molten metal into metallic glass.
But a few alloys such as certain palladium and zirconium base alloys require much lower cooling rates and can be directly formed into sheets about an inch thick. Unfortunately, these materials cost too much for use in production settings.
"If we can find out what it is about these alloys that allows them to be an inch thick," he points out, "we could apply it to commercially important materials like aluminum and titanium."
Atmospheric Computation Models
Adrian Sandu (computer science)
Air pollution is now becoming a global concern that has scientists in many fields working towards solutions. The field of computer science is no exception as Adrian Sandu, an assistant professor, builds computational models to support atmospheric pollution studies.
Computer models will be used simulate both the effects of chemical and physical processes that take place in the atmosphere. These processes include emission of pollutants, chemical transformations as time goes by, convection by wind, the affects of rain, and more. When all these elements are combined, an air pollution model can be produced.
"The resulting models are extremely large because the atmosphere is a big domain," Sandu said. "We need specialized computation techniques and parallel processing in order to manage these models."
These air pollution models can be used to answer various scientific questions using simulation. They are also used for making various policy decisions such as how pollutant emissions should be reduced In order to meet guidelines set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Sandu's work focuses on building the algorithms and software needed to create the new generation of air quality models.