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Nov. 11: Carnegie Mellon's Alan McGaughey Leads Team Developing Novel Materials for Aerospace Electronics


Chriss Swaney

Carnegie Mellon's Alan McGaughey Leads Team
Developing Novel Materials for Aerospace Electronics

PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University's Alan McGaughey has received a three-year, $965,874 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to develop new materials to improve electronic systems throughout the aerospace industry. The grant was funded by the Obama Administration's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

McGaughey, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, will lead a team of university engineers in studying heat transfer and fluid flow in carbon nanotube aerogels, a new material developed by Carnegie Mellon researchers. McGaughey's team includes Shelley Anna, an associate professor of mechanical and chemical engineering; Mohammad F. Islam, an assistant professor of chemical and materials science engineering; and Kevin Pipe, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan.

"By tuning the structure of these aerogels, it will be possible to obtain materials ranging from excellent thermal insulators to high thermal conductivity materials so critical in the operation of prop-driven airplanes and large industrial power turbines," McGaughey said.

Islam, the Carnegie Mellon researcher who created the nanotube aerogels, said the research will lead to the creation of ultra-light materials with great strength but energy-efficient properties.

Industry analysts report that one of the big challenges today is to produce turbines for the aerospace industry that run fast and efficiently, but do not overheat.

"Our research is aimed at using these tiny nanotubes to help develop materials that are more economical and more efficient than current materials," McGaughey said. Nanotubes are hollow, cylindrical materials made of one element, usually carbon. They are becoming increasingly popular in nanotechnology research due to their superior strength, electrical properties and thermal properties.

McGaughey's team plans to incorporate its research into the university's undergraduate engineering program and showcase results to members of the Society of Women Engineers, the largest service group at Carnegie Mellon. Researchers also will share results with the YWCA Greater Pittsburgh TechGYRLS® program, a nationwide YWCA initiative launched in 1997 to bridge the computer and technology gender gap. The program creates opportunities for underserved girls to experience hands-on exploration of science, technology, engineering and math.