Gebrael awarded PPG-MRL assistantship


Tarek Gebrael
Tarek Gebrael

MechSE graduate student Tarek Gebrael is one of five students who have been awarded PPG Materials Research Laboratory (MRL) Graduate Research Assistantships to pursue cutting-edge research broadly related to the areas of interest to PPG.

MRL director Paul Braun notes that PPG’s generosity translates into a valuable opportunity for outstanding graduate students. “The PPG-MRL graduate research fellowship program gives top MRL graduate students the opportunity to propose and develop new areas of research and receive feedback from PPG scientists and engineers on their research, as well as opportunities to interact more deeply with PPG,” he said.

Gebrael’s research concentrates on using heat spreaders to cool electronics. “Power densification of modern electronics is greatly shaped by emerging thermal management technologies,” he said. “Dissipating the heat generated during operation is needed to keep the devices at temperatures below material limits. Powerful cooling methods, such as aggressive forced air convection relying on air handling units and chillers, can be costly. Therefore, engineers are constantly looking to implement more thermally efficient and cost-effective cooling techniques. Within this context, heat spreaders have proven to be an excellent choice. They spread heat generated inside hotspots and conduct it to a heat sink through an increased area, hence reducing thermal resistance.

“The two main limitations of the state-of-the-art approaches are as follows. (1) Heat spreaders are manufactured in a way that maximizes the contact area with hotspots, but in many devices, the location of the junction (the region where heat is generated) is unreachable by the heat spreader. (2) Heat spreader integration requires the application of a low-thermal-conductivity thermal interface material (TIM) between the mating surfaces to eliminate air gaps and provide mechanical compliance. To address the increase in thermal resistance due to those limitations, I developed a new method to grow a TIM-less copper spreader on electronics monolithically. The coating is conformal and covers all exposed surfaces, getting as close as possible to the junction of the device. In addition, since the coating eliminates air gaps at the interface with the mating surface, TIMs are eliminated.”

His advisor is MechSE professor Nenad Miljkovic. “While Tarek’s scientific curiosity, eagerness to learn, and critical thinking have always led him to exciting findings, his scientific knowledge and rigor were always in place to explain these findings. His tenacity and patience were always helpful in tough moments during his research in my lab,” Miljkovic said.

About the PPG Assistantships
To help build the next generation of diverse STEM leaders, PPG and the PPG Foundation support talented students pursuing their post-secondary studies, ensuring they have the tools and resources they need to be successful. The PPG Foundation also partners with leading universities to establish launching points for a diverse STEM talent pipeline and the world-class expertise and discovery that make tomorrow’s possibilities a reality. The PPG Foundation is entering its sixth year of partnership with the University of Illinois, including funding of the MRL Graduate Research Assistantships, which support students and the University community with new thought leaders at the MRL. The company invested $13.3 million in community engagement programs in 2021, including more than $6.6 million invested globally in education.