Two MechSE grads win PPG-MRL research assistantships


Materials Research Lab

MechSE graduate students James Carpenter and Dhawal Thakare were among five engineering students awarded PPG-MRL Graduate Research Assistantships to pursue cutting-edge research broadly related to the areas of interest to PPG.

PPG and the PPG Foundation aim to bring color and brightness to PPG communities around the world. By investing in educational opportunities, the company and foundation help grow today’s skilled workforce and develop tomorrow’s innovators in fields related to coatings and manufacturing. This student program supports the University of Illinois community with new thought leaders at the Materials Research Laboratory (MRL). 

Ahyoung Kim, Maggie Potter, and Chengxi Zhao also won the PPG-MRL award.

James Carpenter (Nenad Miljkovic, advisor)

Photo courtesy of James Carpenter.
Photo courtesy of James Carpenter.
My research focuses on the rational design of functionalized, micro/nanostructured surfaces. These surfaces have the ability to produced desired outcomes during various phase-change processes. Specifically, the frosting/icing of components can compromise the efficiency and integrity of a multitude of engineering systems. The spacecraft cryogenic system is a great example. Here, water on the spacecraft can deposit and freeze on the cryogenic surfaces. Due to the high infrared absorptivity of ice, the film causes a large parasitic radiative heat load that the cryogenic system must overcome. In this project, I will use MEMS/NEMS fabrication techniques along with a sulfur-based coating deposition technique, which will make the cryogenic surfaces resistant to this type of ice film formation. With a reduced parasitic radiative heat load, cryogenic systems can be made smaller, lighter, and more efficient. More efficient cryogenic systems will bring space agencies like NASA that much closer to exploring Mars and other planets.  

“He has made great progress on the project thus far and is now developing a model to quantify the effect that condensing droplets have on the growth rate of nearby droplets, as well as building a vacuum chamber capable of emulating the low pressure/temperature conditions seen in cryogenic systems during frosting. He presented the preliminary results at the 6th Micro and Nano Flows Conference in Atlanta last September and presented additional results at the Gordon Research Conference for Micro and Nanoscale Phase Change Heat Transfer in Italy this past February,” said Miljkovic. 

Dhawal Thakare (Randy Ewoldt and Nancy Sottos (MatSE), co-advisors)

Photo courtesy of Dhawal Thakare.
Photo courtesy of Dhawal Thakare.
As a fourth-year PhD candidate in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering, I work with [Materials Science and Engineering] Prof. Nancy Sottos in the area of Stimuli-Responsive ‘Smart’ Coatings. These coatings provide active, on-demand functionalities to substrate in addition to basic protection. My research specifically involves the development of self-protecting anticorrosion coatings. We use the strategy of encapsulation of anticorrosive actives in microcapsules to achieve this functionality. This strategy allows for a controlled and stimuli-responsive delivery through manipulating the properties of the capsule shell. For instance, if the capsule shell is pH-sensitive, then it can be programmed to release the anticorrosive actives in an acidic media. The pH-release mechanism is ideal for corrosion protection, especially if the corrosion is initiated without a mechanical damage in a coating, by benefiting from a decrease or increase in the pH associated with the anodic or cathodic corrosion half reactions, respectively. Responsive coatings are also ideal for applications encountering acidic/basic operating conditions, like pipelines in oil and gas industry carrying corrosive acidic fluids. This added function enables enhanced service life of coated materials, reduced maintenance costs, and improved energy efficiency in a wide variety of industrial applications including automotive, aerospace, and petrochemical.

Under the PPG-MRL fellowship, I aim to develop pH responsive microcapsules which can be used to form a self-protecting anticorrosive coating. One of the main challenges is to develop microcapsules which are robust enough to survive a commercial coating environment. Additionally, we focus on developing a ‘green’ coating system having a reduced footprint on the environment. 

“Dhawal has extraordinary potential for conducting impactful research, combined with a passion for science and education. I look forward to great things from Dhawal,” said Sottos.