Naval Research Grant Will Speed UH Work on Materials, Energy

New Measurement System Will Allow Researchers to Move More Quickly

A grant from the Office of Naval Research will help researchers from across the University of Houston’s Cullen College of Engineering more efficiently test advanced materials being developed with funding from the Department of Defense.

Venkat Selvamanickam, M.D. Anderson Professor of mechanical engineering, said he will use the $810,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research to purchase a physical properties measurement system (PPMS), which will allow researchers to more quickly test the advanced materials being produced in their laboratories.

Selvamanickam, who also is director of the Applied Research Hub at the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH (TcSUH), said the new equipment will allow his lab to expedite its research on the development of improved superconducting wire.

The money comes from an Office of Naval Research (ONR) program to fund new equipment needed for research sponsored by that office or other Department of Defense research programs. Selvamanickam, whose work includes efforts to commercialize high-temperature superconducting wire, has a number of eligible grants.

The new PPMS won’t be used only for superconductor technology, he said, but will benefit a variety of materials research, including solar cells, batteries, graphene, thermoelectrics and flexible electronics. It will allow testing at a wider range of temperatures, from near 0 degrees Kelvin to room temperature, and over a wide range of magnetic fields, up to 140,000 gauss. That’s up from 90,000 gauss for the current equipment, which also is limited to use only for superconductor wires.

Yan Yao, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at UH, is among the other faculty who will use the new equipment. His research group focuses on green and sustainable organic materials for energy generation and storage. He also is a principal investigator for TcSUH.

“With the addition of PPMS, we will be able to obtain a fundamental understanding of how the transport properties of two-dimensional layered metal chalcogenides are influenced with the change of interlayer distance and the pillar materials,” he said. That should offer valuable feedback for an effort funded by the ONR’s Young Investigator Program to design better magnesium-ion intercalation materials.

Selvamanickam said the current testing system limits his lab to testing no more than three samples a week; the new system will increase that to as many as seven samples a week, in addition to providing a wider range of valuable information.

“It creates a big bottleneck,” he said. “Until we measure, we can’t proceed. With better measurement, we can make materials better, faster.”