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Feb. 28: Researcher Wins Prestigious Career Award From National Science Foundation


Chriss Swaney

Carnegie Mellon Researcher Wins Prestigious
Career Award From National Science Foundation    

PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University's Mohammad F. Islam has received the National Science Foundation's most prestigious honor for new faculty members, the Faculty Early Career Development Award.     

Mohammad F. IslamIslam, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science and engineering, will receive a five-year, $500,000 grant to investigate how building blocks like atoms and molecules are organized in certain crystals and alloys.    

Diamonds and graphite, for example, are made from the same atoms but have completely different properties because of the way those atoms are organized, Islam said. However, it is very difficult to study how these atoms and molecules assemble themselves into single crystals or alloys because they are too small to be seen. Islam will use spherical colloids made of temperature-sensitive plastics to create single crystals and alloys for his research. The micrometer size of the colloids will allow him to use an optical microscope to see and follow their movements during assembly. In addition, the size of the colloids can be changed by heating them.    

"We will be able to study how phase transition, like melting or freezing, happens in alloys using these colloids," Islam said. "Understanding how these particles assemble into crystalline structures or undergo melting or freezing can impact how certain materials are designed."    

These novel designs will have diverse applications for drug delivery, biochemical sensors and photonics for use in the biomedical and defense industry sectors. Islam also said the physics of phase transitions is difficult for undergraduate and high school students to understand. He hopes that his very visual and interactive experiments will make learning these concepts easier.