Peering into the future at the dawn of a new decade, the most pressing problems facing humanity can perhaps be best summarized by three interconnected grand challenges—climate change, meeting the basic needs of people, and resilience against high impact, low occurrence events—the ‘known unknowns’ such as pandemics, corona mass ejection and supervolcanic eruptions. Emerging materials at the nano and atomic scales form one of the most exciting platforms to tackle these problems. They possess unique physical, chemical, mechanical, and optical properties, enabling scientists and engineers to explore and develop disruptive innovative (Black Swan) and transformative solutions in medicine, self-healing structures, imaging, computing, energy storage, and harvesting, water conservation and purification, to name a few.
Among these, graphene—the so-called wonder material—has attracted the attention of a vast body of researchers. However, its high cost has limited its use mostly in academia and research laboratories. In our laboratory, we have developed a novel one-pot process that synthesizes multilayer graphene (MLG) from coal—an abundantly available source of carbon. Compared to the current method of choice (Hummer’s method to derive MLG from graphite), our method is significantly cheaper and is environment-friendlier. Another class of transformative materials that is rich in engineering challenges and has potential for deployment in a range of applications from electronic cooling to compact heat exchangers to aerospace is high porosity metal foams. For example, when used for thermal
management, metal foams provide enhanced heat dissipation due to a significant extended surface with highly tortuous flow paths, and an enhanced convection transport due to the local thermal dispersion caused by small scale eddies shed in the wake of the flow past the metal fibers. These mechanisms of heat transfer enhancement in high porosity metal foams depend on local flow Reynolds number, pore structure, three–dimensional arrangement of metallic fibers, pore density, porosity, and type of working fluid.
Our current research is built around the above-mentioned multi-purpose, multi-physics materials—coal-derived graphene and high porosity aluminum and graphene foams. Descriptions of the research projects for these two classes of material are given under the Research tab on the menu. The team members carrying out the cutting edge research are listed under Personnel, and the laboratory space, equipment, and access to testing and characterization facilities in support of research are covered in the tab on Facilities and Equipment. An integral part of our research is global collaboration. It is our firm belief that the major problems facing humanity are interdisciplinary and global in nature. In recognition of this, an integral part of our research effort is developing and leveraging collaborative global networks. To this end, we have established strong relationships with Virginia Tech, India in Chennai, Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology in Patiala, India, and Alexandria University in
Egypt. A brief summary of these is provided under the heading Collaboration on the menu.