UC Santa Barbara Scientist Receives Prestigious $3M DoD Fellowship to Fund Research in Developing 3D Printing Platform for Extreme-Use Materials

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Scientist Tresa Pollock, the chair of the Materials Department at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), doesn’t work in the extreme conditions of outer space herself, but rather works to discover new materials that can do so. Pollock will soon be getting some extra help with her research in the form of a $3 million fellowship from the US Department of Defense. She received one of just 13 prestigious 2017 Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowships from the DoD, which will fund five years of her research in developing a 3D printing platform for new, extreme-use materials.

The Vannevar Bush fellowship program, formerly known as the National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellowship, is sponsored by the Basic Research Office, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. The new name is to commemorate Vannevar Bush, who was the Director of Scientific Research and Development during WWII and a former professor and Dean of Engineering at MIT. It’s executed by the Office of Naval Research, which announced a move to ramp up development of its additive manufacturing activities in 2015 and has been busy funding 3D printing projects and research since then.

Awards from the program are given to top-tier scientists from universities in the US, in order to conduct “high risk, high pay-off” research that centers around and attempts to solve the DoD’s difficult problems.  This certainly describes Pollock’s work: developing a 3D platform to discover new materials that can operate in the extreme environments experience by hypersonic flight vehicles, rockets, and aircraft engines.

Tresa Pollock

Pollock said, “I am very honored to be selected for this award, which is named after a visionary scientist who shaped the U.S. research infrastructure. I am also grateful for the research support this provides and for the support the DoD has provided for many of my previous research efforts. The Vannevar Bush Fellowship will allow us to pursue research in directions not possible with other types of research programs.”

“Printing advanced materials into complex architectures on demand poses many technical challenges, and this fellowship will enable us to tackle what are currently limiting materials-science issues. The award builds on our previous research on crystal growth and solidification, 3-D materials science and alloy design. These intellectually challenging areas of research are highly suited to the talented Ph.D. students at UCSB.”

New multilayered materials to withstand extreme heat

Pollock’s previous research efforts, with General Electric, in developing high-performance, multilayered materials to use in extreme environments were supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the subject of a video for its “Science Nation” series. Pollock’s research team, in addition to designing and building a custom microscope that combines ion, electron, and laser beams to analyze new materials at the nanometer scale in 3D, also used new modeling tools to speed up materials development.

It’s only been possible in the last several years to use both electron and laser beams to print complex engineering objects: it involves melting and fusing particles of extremely fine metallic powders in millimeter-scale pools, created by the local focusing of a beam. Additionally, until now it’s only been possible to print using six or seven types of metallic powders, even though the periodic table of elements could, in theory, allow for the mixing and printing of millions of metallic powders, with different element combinations. Pollock explained that there just wasn’t enough information about the events that take place “during the melting, mixing and vaporization of the material that occur when the powder bed is scanned by a high-intensity beam, and afterward as the material cools.”

“The grand challenges for making materials in this fashion are twofold and three-dimensional. We need to design material compositions in which defects will not form during melting and cooling within the cubic-millimeter pool, and we need 3-D tools to examine the structure of that millimeter-scale volume of material at the nanometer scale to ensure that the structure is sound. The Vannevar Bush fellowship will enable us to focus on these two aspects of the printing problem,” Pollock said.

Tresa Pollock stands next to an electron microscope linked to a custom-made table mounted with a chamber used for advanced 3D printing. [Image: Matt Perko]

Pollock will build upon the combined laser and electron beam tomography system that she and her UCSB team developed, and work to design and integrate an open source, automated laser powder processing platform that can be operated in one of two ways: in combinatorial chemistry mode to locally vary the chemistry, or the conventional layer by layer additive build mode for a given material. Pollock explained to the USCB Current that the new 3D platform will allow for exploration of higher-dimensional compositional material design spaces that haven’t been accessible until now; it will also be able to offer rapid acquisition of 3D information about the chemistry, crystallography, and structure of the new materials, from critical nanometer to millimeter length scales.

“For Tresa Pollock to receive a prestigious Vannever Bush Award from the U.S. Department of Defense is a tremendous and well-deserved honor,” said Rod Alferness, Dean of UCSB’s College of Engineering. “I have no doubt that the funding that comes with the fellowship will enable her and her team to develop breakthroughs in 3-D printing, nanoscale analysis and efficient production of important new materials.”

Discuss in the DoD Grant forum at 3DPB.com.

 

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