Newsletter, July 2013


    MIT Materials News that Matters

    July 2013

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    Faculty Highlight: Brian Wardle

    Carbon nanotube deicing technologies developed at MIT's necstlab could be in flight tests as early as next year.

    MIT Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Brian L. Wardle.

    Carbon nanotubes can contribute their mechanical strength and electrical properties across a wide range of areas from aerospace to medicine, and the necstlab of MIT Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Brian L. Wardle is making an impact in deicing, polymer composites and sensors.


    In two hallmark technologies, nanostitch architecture and fuzzy fiber architecture, underlie advances in mechanical strength for aerospace with lighter weight and low power anti-icing for airplane wings. Both use aligned nanowires, specifically carbon nanotube forests which are compatible with carbon-fiber polymer compoistes. "We've proven two of these hybrid advanced composite architectures comprised of nanowires plus micron scale advanced fibers, which are carbon fibers in aerospace applications due to their specific strength and their specific stiffness," Wardle said. Read more.

    Strengthening aerospace laminates

    Sunny Wicks demontrates toughening with aligned carbon nanotubes

    MIT doctoral student Sunny Wicks holds samples of carbon nanotube strengthened cloth.
    MIT doctoral student Sunny Wicks holds samples of carbon nanotube strengthened cloth.

    MIT doctoral student Sunny Wicks has made some surprising discoveries on the way to proving the case for enhancing aerospace laminate toughness by adding aligned carbon nanotubes. "The more I work on this material, the more complex it gets," Wicks, 28, said during a recent interview at MIT Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Brian L. Wardle's necst lab.

    Fracture toughness studies of alumina-based CNT-reinforced laminates showed interlaminar reinforcement of laminates made with both marine and aerospace epoxies. But the results were not universal.


    "The aligned nanotubes help to bridge together the layers of the composite so that any delamination crack has a tough time propagating between layers; essentially it takes more energy to tear them apart," Wicks said. But results varied with the length of the carbon nanotubes and the type of polymer. Read more

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    Strengthening Composites with CNTs
    wicks video
    Sunny Wicks demonstrates toughening
    with aligned carbon nanotubes

    Characterizing carbon nanotubes
    Noa Lachman's research leading to better electrodes, capacitors.

    MIT postdoctoral associate Noa Lachman at carbon nanotube oven.
    Postdoctoral associate Noa Lachman at the oven used to make carbon nanotubes in necstlab at MIT.

    Postdoctoral associate Noa Lachman specializes in characterizing the morphology, or geometrical shape, of carbon nanotube (CNT) forests and materials comprised of such, using electron microscopy to uncover what neither the eye nor optical enlargement can see.


    Lachman examines nanotubes' diameter, density and waviness using techniques such as transmission electron and scanning electron microscopy in labs at MIT's Institute for Soldier Nanotechnology and Harvard's Center for Nanoscale Science. She also makes carbon nanotubes in a furnace in the necstlab, which is directed by MIT Associate Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Brian L. Wardle. Lachman works in collaboration with several other groups on projects to develop CNT-enhanced actuators and sensors and carries out mechanical densification, or compression, of vertically aligned carbon nanotube forests to enable higher performance in such devices which are broadly termed energy storage and transport devices. Read more   See related video.

    Tuning metal-oxygen bond strength
    Controlling spin state through strain could lead to better cathodes for solid oxide fuel cells.
    Wesley Hong in the Electrochemical Energy Lab of MIT Professor Yang Shao-Horn.

    Engineering better solid oxide fuel cells will require cathode materials with much faster reaction rates for splitting oxygen molecules into charge-carrying oxygen ions. Using a lanthanum cobalt oxide (LCO) model system, researchers at MIT demonstrated experimentally that tuning the cobalt-oxygen bond strength in LCO through strain is one way to do that.


    MIT materials science graduate student Wesley Hong, Professor Yang Shao-Horn and colleagues reported in a paper published July 15, 2013 in The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters that LCO nanoscale thin films had 100 times faster kinetics than bulk crystals of LCO. Collaborators at the University of Wisconsin-Madison previously proposed that the position of oxygen electronic states in an oxide could be used as a descriptor for the cathodic activity in solid oxide fuel cells, suggesting that the process could be tuned by adjusting metal-oxygen bond strength. "We would like to get a more fundamental insight into whether you can just tune the metal-oxygen bond without changing the chemistry or changing the effective charge on the cobalt ion and still change the catalytic activity," Hong said, explaining the motivation for the study. "That way we can more directly see whether or not just changing the metal-oxygen bond relevant to catalysis." Read more.


    Gang Chen heads Mechanical Engineering Dept.
    An MIT faculty member since 2001, Chen succeeds Mary Boyce as MIT's MechE head.

    Professor Gang Chen
    Gang Chen, the Carl Richard Soderberg Professor of Power Engineering, was named head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering (MechE), effective July 23. The announcement came Monday afternoon in an email from Ian Waitz, dean of the School of Engineering. "Professor Chen's leadership, vision, dedication and strong sense of community will keep the department on its path of excellence and help it flourish in the days ahead," Waitz wrote. "Please join me in congratulating Gang on this appointment. He will be an excellent leader for MechE and I very much look forward to working with him." A member of the MIT faculty since 2001, Chen succeeds Mary Boyce, who had served as department head since 2009 and who is now dean of engineering and applied science at Columbia University. Chen is principal investigator for the Solid State Solar Thermal Energy Conversion (S3TEC) center, a DOE Office of Basic Energy Sciences-sponsored Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC), which is supported through the Materials Processing Center at MIT. Read more from the MIT News Office.
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