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Research Highlights

Learn about the research occurring in our department.

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Learn about the students who participate in the undergraduate research program 


Prof. Free and Prof. Sarswat Receive DOE Nuclear Physics Grant

September 5, 2017

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science recently awarded Prof. Mike Free and Prof. Prashant Sarswat a $289,000 grant to support research on separation of lithium isotopes.  Production of Li-7 is needed to support advanced nuclear energy systems such as molten salt fueled reactors and molten salt cooled reactors.  The conventional process for separating Li-7 from Li-6 involves a liquid extraction process featuring highly toxic mercury.  This process has been banned in the United States, and Li-7 currently used by the nuclear industry is obtained from China.  Prof. Free and Sarswat are developing a new Li isotope separation process that does not require the use of mercury and offers great promise to supply future demand for this isotope.

Prof. Fang's ARPE-E Funded Research in Spotlight

July 26, 2017

As part of ARPA-E’s METALS program, the Prof. Fang's group has developed dramatically simpler titanium (Ti) metal-from-ore extraction and metal-to-spherical power production processes.  Utah’s novel extraction process removes Ti metal from ore in a way that reduces cost, energy consumption, and emissions, and it has enabled a new means to produce high-quality spherical powders of Ti and Ti alloys, a high-value feedstock for 3D printing. 
fang particles
The Utah team is working with partners Boeing and Arconic to scale and validate their titanium separation and power production processes over the next two years. Utah has spun out a small company, FTP Manufacturing, to produce spherical powders in small batches for potential future customers to evaluate in their fabrication processes. 

For a detailed assessment of the University of Utah project and impact, please click here.


Students win prestigious DOE-Nuclear Energy awards

June 22, 2017

Silvia PadillaSilvia Padilla and Matthew Newton, seniors in the Department of Metallurgical Engineering, were awarded 1-year, $7500 scholarships from the U.S. Department of Energy's Integrated University Program administered by the Office of Nuclear Energy.  Silvia and Matt both are members of Prof. Simpson's resesarch group and work on projects related to nuclear material detection and separation. Adam Burak, a Ph.D. student in Prof. Simpson's group, was a winner of the 2017 Department of Energy Innovations in Nuclear Technology R&D competition.  The program is designed to award students for innovative nuclear technology relevant research as demonstrated through journal publications and conference presentations.  Adam was a winner of a $1500 prize in the category of students who attend universities with less than $600 million in 2016 R&D Expenditures.

 Matt Newton and Adam Burak

Matt Newton (left) and Adam Burak (right) in the Nuclear Pyrometallurgy Laboratory. Silvia Padilla is pictured upper right.

Titanium powders produced by reducing TiO2 with magnesium in a hydrogen atmosphere

April 07, 2017
Source: ASM International

Dr. Zak Fang's research group recently received $3 million in funding to develop two process technologies for production of low-cost titanium powders, from the Advanced Research Projects Agency- Energy (ARPA-E) of the U.S. Department of Energy and its industrial partners. The first is Ti-6Al-4V spherical powder for 3D printing/additive manufacturing, and the second is commercially pure (CP) titanium powder.

This is a continuation of a project funded under ARPA-E's METALS program since 2013. The goal of the continuation project is to produce powders at a pilot scale and validate the technology for industrial applications. The patented processes use low-cost commercial TiO2 as the raw material, and magnesium to reduce TiO2 in a hydrogen atmosphere. The processes are relatively simple and promise drastically reduced cost of production for both CP-titanium and spherical Ti-6Al-4V powders.

The process is based on a patented de-oxygenation technology that relies on hydrogen to thermodynamically destabilize Ti-O solid solutions. It can produce titanium powder with extra-low oxygen content. Producing low-oxygen titanium alloy powder for additive manufacturing has been one of the major factors contributing to its high cost. The technology of this project could potentially disrupt the existing marketplace.

The team is led by Professor Z. Zak Fang. Boeing and Arconic Titanium Engineered Products are industrial partners.

Light-Emitting Diodes: From Bread to Bulbs

(article from Spring 2016 Continuum)

The luminescence of carbon dots when irradiated with UV light. (Photo by Prashant Sarswat)

TVs, Christmas lights, and flashlights of the future could be lit up using our leftover bread crusts. That’s theLED finding of two University of Utah researchers searching for a more sustainable and less expensive way to make light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

LEDs have been a popular, more efficient alternative to fluorescent and incandescent bulbs for the past few decades. But LEDs are generally produced using quantum dots (QDs), tiny crystals that have luminescent properties. And many of these QDs are expensive to synthesize, as well as potentially harmful to dispose of. So some research over the past 10 years has focused on using carbon dots (CDs, or simply, QDs made of carbon) to create LEDs. Compared to other types of quantum dots, CDs have not only lower toxicity but also better biocompatibility, meaning they can be used in a broader variety of applications.

U Metallurgical Engineering Research Assistant Professor Prashant Sarswat and Professor Michael Free have now successfully turned food waste such as soft drinks and discarded pieces of bread and tortillas into CDs, and subsequently, LEDs. They found sucrose and D-fructose dissolved in soft drinks to be the most effective sources for production of CDs. Currently, one of the most common sources of QDs is cadmium selenide, a compound composed of two toxic elements, leading to concerns over toxic waste. Using food waste could not only be nontoxic but actually reduce the waste stream.

Free and Sarswat’s results were recently published in Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics, a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry. Looking forward, the researchers hope to continue studying the LEDs produced from food waste for stability and long-term performance.

Last Updated: 9/6/17