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UConn, UMass Lowell, Georgia Tech to Collaborate with Industry

Source: UConn Today, Anna Zarra Aldrich ’20 (CLAS), Office of the Vice President for Research

Multi-material micro-lattice polymeric structures fabricated using 3D printing. (Kavin Kowsari/UConn Photo)
Multi-material micro-lattice polymeric structures fabricated using 3D printing. (Kavin Kowsari/UConn Photo)

UConn, the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UMass Lowell), and Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) announced a collaboration to establish SHAP3D, a National Science Foundation (NSF) Industry-University Cooperative Research Center (IUCRC), to address emerging challenges of additive manufacturing, also commonly referred to as 3D printing.

IUCRCs bridge the gap between early academic research and commercial readiness, supporting use-inspired research leading to new knowledge, technological capabilities and downstream commercial applications of these technologies.

“This Center will address the grand challenges that prevent the entire 3D printing field from moving forward,” says Joey Mead, Distinguished University Professor and David and Frances Pernick Nanotechnology Professor in the Department of Plastics Engineering at UMass Lowell. Mead serves as the center director of the Center for Science of Heterogeneous Additive Printing of 3D Materials (SHAP3D).

“Our vision is to establish a synergistic national network of excellence in additive manufacturing knowledge, experience and facilities that will add value to the additive manufacturing industry, which is expected to top $20 billion within the next five years.”

The three universities, each serving as a site, are working cooperatively as SHAP3D, one of nearly 75 IUCRCs nationwide, to conduct pre-competitive research that will guide future technologies in 3D printing. The NSF funding supports the partnership, universities provide the research infrastructure and talent, and industry partners provide research funding and guide university researchers on industrially relevant projects. All members vote on the research areas the center should pursue, and research is conducted at university sites.

The NSF’s IUCRC program enables industrially-relevant, pre-competitive research via multi-member, sustained partnerships among industry, academe, and government. NSF supports the development and evolution of IUCRCs, providing a financial and procedural framework for membership and operations in addition to best practices learned over decades of fostering public-private partnerships that provide significant value to the nation, industry and university faculty and students. There are currently about 70 centers and over 800 unique members nationwide.

While the new joint center will cover many facets of 3D printing, from materials development and new printer design to modeling and applications, each site focuses on specific areas based on their strength and works collaboratively with other sites.

The UConn center site is primarily focused on 3D printing applications for aerospace, shipbuilding and biomedical applications since these industries all have a strong foothold in Connecticut. The UML site, based on its renowned plastic engineering program, focuses on developing new printing and processing methods as well as developing new polymer feedstocks for future 3D printing. Georgia Tech focuses on developing new functional materials and hybrid printing technologies and studying design methodology.

“We’re trying to set up an ecosystem where we can all work together to solve fundamental research questions that are both intellectually stimulating and technologically relevant to the additive manufacturing field,” says Anson Ma, an associate professor in UConn’s Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering and Polymer Program and the site director at UConn.

Rainer Hebert, an associate professor from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, serves as the site co-director.

The IUCRC brings together large companies, small businesses, startups and government agencies in a collaborative research ecosystem.

“We’re trying to be as inclusive as possible because this is a relatively new field, and the research and development landscape is changing at amazing speed,” says Christopher Hansen, an associate professor in UML’s mechanical engineering department and the site director at UML.

Currently, 14 companies have committed to join the center, which will provide $2.25 million for SHAP3D to conduct precompetitive research.

“By working with industry partners, university researchers can focus on topics with great commercial potential and create more practical uses for 3D printing,” says H. Jerry Qi, the Georgia Tech site director and a professor at the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering.  “The center will also serve as a training ground for next-generation leaders in additive manufacturing and provide a talent pipeline to industry.”

“This new center is really exciting and we’re so glad NSF supports our vision and is willing to fund it,” says Mead. “The whole is larger than the sum of its parts, so we are looking forward to expanding this center to include more universities, industry partners and government agencies.”

Learn more about the IUCRC program at

UConn IPB Wins AIA Connecticut Design Excellence Award

UConn’s Innovation Partnership Building has won an Excellence Award in the 2018 AIA Connecticut Design Awards. The judges cited the building’s integration with the surrounding landscape, its horizontal composition, its shaping in accordance with program, and its interior design language as some of the main highlights of the award selection.

Full article

Professor S. Pamir Alpay Elected ACerS Fellow

By Marlese Lessing, MSE

Dr. S. Pamir Alpay (right) accepts his Fellow of The Society award from the ACerS President Michael Alexander (left) at the Society’s annual banquet.
Dr. S. Pamir Alpay (right) accepts his Fellow of The Society award from the ACerS President Michael Alexander (left) at the Society’s annual banquet.

Professor S. Pamir Alpay, Executive Director of the Innovation Partnership Building at UConn Tech Park, has been elevated to Fellow status by the American Ceramic Society (ACerS), a great honor and distinguishment given to individuals who have impacted the ceramics engineering industry through scholarship and enterprise.

Professor Alpay was given this honor at the ACerS Annual Honor and Awards Banquet, in Columbus, Ohio in October. His research in ceramics involves multiscale modeling, electrothermic heating and cooling, HVAC systems, dielectrically tunable oxides and other practical applications of ceramic materials.

The ACerS Fellowship is one of the many honors Professor Alpay has been given this year. He was named General Electric Endowed Professor in Advanced Manufacturing by the UConn Board of Trustees for his extensive work with industry partner collaborations and was given The UConn American Association of University Professors 2018 Excellence in Research & Creativity: Career Award for his continued scholastic service.

New Findings May Lead to Sea Change in Desalination Technology

Colin Poitras – UConn Communications, UConn Today

desalination plant
Desalination plant. (Getty Images)

More than 300 million people around the world rely on desalinated water for part or all of their daily needs — a demand that will only grow with larger populations and improved standards of living.

Accessing the oceans for drinking water, however, requires desalination technologies that are complicated and expensive.

In the current issue of Science, researchers at the University of Connecticut offer a new approach to manufacturing a key facet of the process — the membranes integral to desalination. Using an additive manufacturing approach that employs electrospraying, UConn scientists were able to create ultra-thin, ultra-smooth polyamide membranes that are less prone to fouling and may require less power to move water through them.

The most commonly used technology for desalination is reverse osmosis, a process in which seawater is forced through a membrane capable of removing salts and many other molecule contaminants.  Conventional approaches to making reverse osmosis membranes have not changed in nearly 40 years.

“Today’s membranes for reverse osmosis are not made in a way that allows their properties to be controlled,” says Jeffrey McCutcheon, study author and UConn School of Engineering’s Al Geib Professor of Environmental Engineering Research and Education. “Our approach uses an ‘additive’ technique that allows for control of a membrane’s fundamental properties such as thickness and roughness, which is currently impossible using conventional methods.”

While the use of reverse osmosis continues to rise around the world, many of its drawbacks, which include high energy consumption and a propensity for membranes to foul, continue to plague the industry.

reverse osmosis
Illustration depicting the process of reverse osmosis. (iStock/Getty Images Plus)

The traditional approach to making these membranes is known as interfacial polymerization. This method relies on a self-terminating reaction between an aqueous phase amine and an organic phase acid chloride monomer.  The resulting polyamide films — exceedingly thin, highly selective, and permeable to water — became the gold standard membrane for reverse osmosis.

However, as the field has advanced, the need to better control this reaction to allow for membranes of varying thickness and roughness to optimize water flow and reduce fouling has become more pressing.

UConn’s method provides a superior level of control over the thickness and roughness of the polyamide membrane, says McCutcheon.

Typical polyamide membranes have a thickness between 100 and 200 nanometers (nm) that cannot be controlled. UConn’s electrospray method allows for the controlled creation of membranes as thin as 15 nm and the capacity to control membrane thickness in 4 nm increments, a level of specificity not seen before in this area.  Likewise, typical RO membranes have a roughness of over 80 nm.  UConn researchers were able to create membranes with roughness as low as 2 nm.

“Our printing approach to making polyamide membranes has the additional benefit of being scalable,” McCutcheon says. “Much like electrospinning has seen dramatic improvements in roll-to-roll processing, electrospraying can be scaled with relative ease.”

The authors also say this type of manufacturing could save on chemical consumption as traditional chemical baths are not needed as part of the membrane fabrication process.

“In the lab, we use 95 percent less chemical volume making membranes by printing when compared to conventional interfacial polymerization,” says McCutcheon. “These benefits would be magnified in large-scale membrane manufacturing and make the process more ‘green’ than it has been for the past 40 years.”

This innovative new approach is not limited to desalination and could lead to better membranes for other separation processes, says McCutcheon, who also serves as the executive director of the Fraunhofer USA Center for Energy Innovation at UConn, which develops new applied membrane technologies. “In fact, we hope that this method will enable new materials to be considered for a myriad of membrane separation processes, perhaps in processes where those materials were not, or could not, be used before.”

In addition to McCutcheon, the study authors included Maqsud Chowdhury, a recent Ph.D. graduate in chemical engineering, and the paper’s lead author; James Steffes, a current Ph.D. student, and Bryan Huey, professor of materials science and engineering.

The team has filed a patent application for the technology and is currently working with UConn’s Technology Commercialization Services to explore commercialization options. The team also received an award from the UConn SPARK Technology Commercialization Fund.

The research was supported by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency #RD834872, The General Electric Graduate Fellowship for Innovation, the National Science Foundation DMR:MRI Award # 1726862, and the University of Connecticut Academic Plan funding program, and the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering.

‘Smart’ Machine Components Alert Users to Damage and Wear

Colin Poitras – UConn Communications

UTRC 3-D printing
UConn and UTRC scientists are using advanced additive manufacturing to create novel wear sensors that can be embedded into machine parts. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Scientists at the United Technologies Research Center and UConn are using advanced additive manufacturing technology to create ‘smart’ machine components that alert users when they are damaged or worn.

The researchers also applied a variation of the technology to create polymer-bonded magnets with intricate geometries and arbitrary shapes, opening up new possibilities for manufacturing and product design.

The key to both innovations is the use of an advanced form of 3D printing called direct write technology. Unlike conventional additive manufacturing, which uses lasers to fuse layers of fine metal powder into a solid object, direct write technology uses semisolid metal ‘ink’ that is extruded from a nozzle. The viscosity of the metal ink looks like toothpaste being squeezed from a tube.

This process allowed the UConn-UTRC scientists to create fine lines of conductive silver filament that can be embedded into 3D printed machine components while they are being made. The lines, which are capable of conducting electric current, act as wear sensors that can detect damage to the part.

Here’s how they work. Parallel lines of silver filament, each coupled with a tiny 3D-printed resistor, are embedded into a component. The interconnected lines form an electrical circuit when voltage is applied. As lines are embedded deeper and deeper into a component from the surface, each new line and resistor are assigned an increasingly higher voltage value. Any damage to the component, such as wear or abrasion caused by friction from moving parts, would cut into one or more of the lines, breaking the circuit at that stage. The more lines that are broken, the greater the damage. Real time voltage readings allow engineers to assess potential damage and wear to a component without having to take an entire machine apart.

To get a better idea of how these micro sensors might be used, imagine them being embedded in the ceramic coating of a jet engine turbine fan blade. These blades are subjected to tremendous physical forces and heat. A microscopic crack in the protective coating could potentially be catastrophic to the blade’s performance, yet invisible to the naked eye. With the embedded sensors, mechanics would be alerted to any blade damage promptly so it can be addressed.

UTRC 3-D printing
Sameh Dardona, center, principal research engineer and associate director, United Technologies Research Center, with Anson Ma, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, right, and Alan Shen, a Ph.D. student, look at a prototype wear sensor at the UTC Research Center in East Hartford on June 18, 2018. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

“This changes the way we look at manufacturing,” says Sameh Dardona, associate director of research and innovation at UTRC, which serves as the innovation engine for United Technologies Corp. “We can now integrate functions into components to make them more intelligent. These sensors can detect any kind of wear, even corrosion, and report that information to the end user. This helps us improve performance, avoid failures, and save costs.”

The UConn-UTRC team was able to embed sensor lines that were just 15 microns wide and 50 microns apart. That’s much thinner than an average human hair, which is about 100 microns. This allows detection of very minute damage. Developing such a precise sensor isn’t easy. UConn associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering Anson Ma and a Ph.D. student from Ma’s Complex Fluids Laboratory, Alan Shen, measured and optimized the flow properties of the silver-infused ink so that micron-sized lines could be reliably deposited without clogging the nozzle or causing substantial spreading after deposition.

UTRC’s Dardona has applied for a patent for the embedded wear sensor technology.

UTRC 3-D printing
A 3D-printed magnet created using direct write technology at the UTC Research Center. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

The scientists also used direct write technology to create novel components that have magnetic coatings or magnetic material embedded inside them. These polymer-bonded magnets are capable of conforming to any variety of shape, and eliminate the need for separate housings in machines requiring magnetic parts.

“This opens up a lot of exciting opportunities,” says Ma. “Imagine magnets that can take on different shapes and fit seamlessly between other functional components. Also, the resultant magnetic field that is created may be further manipulated and optimized by changing the shape of the magnets.”

The magnet fabrication method developed by UConn and UTRC significantly improves upon existing manufacturing practices in other ways too. Current methods for creating custom 3D-printed magnets rely on high-temperature curing, which unfortunately reduces a material’s magnetic properties as a result. The scientists at UConn and UTRC found a way around that problem by using low-temperature UV light to cure the magnets, similar to how a dentist uses UV light to harden a filling. The resultant magnets exhibited significantly better performance than magnets created by other additive manufacturing methods.

Magnets have a wide range of industrial applications, from creating electric currents in alternators to tracking the position or speed of moving parts as high-grade sensors. Embedding magnetic material directly into components could lead to new product designs that are more aerodynamic, lighter, and efficient, Dardona says.

“These kinds of collaborations allow us to help companies like UTC develop new technologies that we know they are going to take to the next level,” says Ma. “It’s also very rewarding for our students. Students involved in these projects are fully integrated into the research team. It’s not only great from a workforce development perspective; it also gives students a chance to work closely with professional engineers in a beautiful facility like UTRC.”

More detailed information about fabrication of the wear sensors can be found in an article in Additive Manufacturing. Details about the direct write production of polymer-bonded magnets can be found in an article in the Journal of Magnetism and Magnetic Materials. Two UTRC engineers, Dustin Caldwell and Callum Bailey, also contributed to the research.

The research was made possible with financial support from United Technologies Research Center and Connecticut Space Grant Consortium.

3D Printing: How Does It Work?

By: Vanessa Wojtusiak

3d printing

(WTNH) — 3D printing has become a controversial topic after lawmakers have uncovered a new reality: the ability to print guns using these printers at home. Guns created through this process have been called “ghost guns” and the plastic or metal guns are untraceable.

Professor Ranier Hebert, who is the Head of the University of Connecticut’s Additive Manufacturing Innovation Center, spoke with News 8 about the process of creating 3D print-outs of objects. The fields that the technology is most used in is for manufacturing as well as medical, however, the design industry has also used printing for jewelry.

UConn’s new Innovation Partnership Building has partnered with Connecticut technology companies including EversourceUTCPratt & Whitney and more to innovate and collaborate in the community and learn about new technologies.

This state-of-the-art building stores a variety of equipment, including 3D printers, which have been primarily used for manufacturing. Two types of printers are used to learn and create; plastic printers as well as metal printers. These particular printers range in price – plastic one located at UConn is a few thousand dollars while the more sophisticated metal printers can run upwards of millions of dollars. Consumers, however, can purchase basic plastic printers for about the same cost as a traditional paper printer.

Related Content: Push to Permanently Ban 3D Printed Guns After Federal Judge Blocks Release

Professor Hebert informed us that all someone would need is an object blueprint, which is a digital file plugged in through a USB device into the printer. Materials are then needed in the form or liquid or powder to melt down and create layers which are stacked to create the three-dimensional object. Some items can take only several hours to print, while larger pieces can take days.

Watch News 8’s Facebook Live conversation and see a demo showcasing the difference between a plastic printer and a metal printer at the UConn Innovation Partnership Building.

Workshop: Grid Modernization and Distributed Energy Resources

Image Source:
Image Source:

The Eversource Energy Center at the University of Connecticut (UConn) is hosting a workshop aimed at identifying key challenges and potential solutions related to the modernization of electric grid. The focus will be on enhancing stability and resiliency of the grid in an environment of increasing penetration of intermittent renewables and other Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) as well as other potentially disruptive factors such as climate, extreme weather events and the widespread adoption of electric vehicles.

The workshop will explore possible solutions by considering the complex interdependencies of technology, economics, regulation and energy demand. Also considered will be the relationship between natural gas and the electric grid. Included will be a discussion of Virtual Power Plants (VPPs), where the utility controls and synchronizes multiple DER technologies such as renewable power generation sources (PV, hydropower and wind), micro Combined Heat and Electricity (mCHE) devices, pump-hydro, and battery storage. The workshop will also consider the dynamics of energy demand and supply, and discuss implications of the above technological solutions under alternate futures and extreme weather and security based outage events.

The workshop outcome will be a report summarizing research gaps and development needs, and ultimately a roadmap for their implementation.

The workshop outcome will be a report summarizing research gaps and development needs, and ultimately a roadmap for their implementation.


Workshop Session I – Identifying the challenges

In this session we will identify and explore the challenges electric utilities have maintaining stability and enhancing resiliency in response to intermittent renewables, peak loads and ramp-up effects, and other stresses on the grid caused by load profiles, electric vehicles, climate, and other factors.
We will also discuss how these conditions are expected to change over time, and the potential impact of these changes on the grid.

Workshop Session II – Identifying the technologies

In this session we will begin by identifying the current state of technology for addressing these challenges, and then explore the leading technologies that can address these challenges going forward.
The focus of the discussion will be to understand the costs and risks associated with the widespread deployment of these technologies, including social acceptance and the capacity to include Low- and Medium-Income consumers in the adaptation of DER solutions. Included in the discussion will be an overview of different DER-based solutions, including mCHE, pump-hydro, and batteries, and what role a dispatchable network of such technologies could play in addressing the challenges. A few case studies will be presented.

Workshop Session III – Potential solutions and gaps

Session III will focus on identifying potential solutions, and where there are gaps in research or methodologies for understanding and evaluating them. With the inherent complexity and interdependency of the various technologies, economics, and regulations that make up the electric grid, as well as the relationship between the electric grid and natural gas, robust methodologies are essential for finding optimized solutions.

This session will include a discussion of a virtual power plant (VPP) approach, where the utility controls and synchronizes multiple distributed energy resource (DER) technologies, as well as the Distributed Generation (DG) models currently being used in Europe and how similar models might apply here.
By identifying the gaps in research and methodologies for utilities to evaluate potential solutions, we will be able to ultimately develop a roadmap for their implementation.

Target Attendees:
Electric and Natural Gas Utility managers and planners.
• Professionals in the energy industry, including Energy Project Developers and VPP software providers.
• Utility Regulators.
• Academics interested in the technological, economic, regulatory, and social challenges of energy and energy distribution.


Day 1 (Thursday, June 14th)

11:30 – 12:00 Registration
12:00 – 12:15 Opening Session – Keynote Speaker [Jennifer Schilling, Grid Modernization Director, Eversource Energy]
12:15 – 1:15 Luncheon and Keynote Speaker [Katie Dykes, Chair, CT PURA]

1:15 – 2:30 Workshop Session I – Identifying the challenges
2:30 – 2:45 Break
2:45 – 3:15 Summary I – Challenges

3:15 – 3:35 Keynote speaker [Ray Samuels, Senior Vice President,  DBS Power & Energy]
3:35 – 3:55 Keynote speaker [Dan Bradley, Managing Director, Navigant]

3:55 – 5:15 Workshop Session II – Identifying the technologies
5:15 – 5:30 Break
5:30 – 6:00 Summary II – Technologies

6:00 – 7:00 Social

7:00 – 9:00 Dinner / Keynote Speaker [David Owens, Retired Executive Vice President, Edison Electric Institute]


Day 2 (Friday, June 15th)

8:00 – 8:20 Breakfast/ Opening Session – Keynote Speaker [Watson Collins, Technical Executive, EPRI]
8:20 – 8:40 Keynote speaker [Walter Rojowsky, Senior Analyst, ICF]
8:40 – 9:00 Keynote speaker [Jeff Nehr – Vice President, Production & Business Development, Peoples Gas]

9:00 – 10:30 Workshop Session III – Potential solutions and gaps
10:30 – 10:45 Break
10:45 – 11:15 Summary III – Potential solutions and gaps

11:15 – 11:30 Closing remarks & Next Steps
11:30 – 12:30 Lunch

12:30 – 14:00 Steering team meeting

Workshop format:

Workshops will be comprised of roundtable discussion groups of 8-10 attendees and a coordinator who will introduce the topic and facilitate the discussion. After each session, the coordinators from each group will summarize the key points and present them to everyone.

Prof. Emmanouil Anagnostou | | 860-486-6806
Eversource Energy Center, University of Connecticut