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 April 27, 2015

New faculty member applies computational techniques to study of Nanoscale Metallic Materials

In any engineered material, the interfaces where different components literally touch and stick together are critical to that material’s ability to withstand stress, to conduct a charge, or perform any number of functions.

“Understanding those interfaces is absolutely critical,” says John Lambropoulos, chair of Mechanical Engineering. “Interfaces control the behavior of all engineered materials.”

That is why he is so pleased that Niaz Abdolrahim is joining the department as an assistant professor on July 1.

niazAbdolrahim comes to the University from MIT, where she has worked as a postdoctoral associate on mathematical modeling of interface structure and interface-defect interactions in metals.

Abdolrahim, in turn, said she is “fascinated by the University of Rochester’s high performance computational resources as well as its exceptional research facilities, such as the Laboratory for Laser Energetics.” She believes she can establish a productive research team within the “vibrant scientific community” here.

Her research will focus specifically on using computational techniques to predict the performance of Nanoscale Metallic Materials (NMMs) based on their governing deformation mechanisms. NMMs have nano-sized components, and include nanoscale multilayers, nanowires, nanoparticles and nanoporous materials -- all of which demonstrate superior strength, plasticity, catalytic capacity, radiation resistance and fatigue suppression compared to conventional materials.

As a result, NMMs have potential applications as interior walls of fusion power reactors, as electrodes in lithium-ion batteries, as electrocatalysts in fuel cells, as components in MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) devices, and as lightweight metal panels for automotive and aerospace industries, Andolrahim notes.

The mechanisms that govern how NMMs deform as a result of  applied force or heat often occur over mere picoseconds of time and nanometers of  length. Computational techniques are capable of capturing the underlying physics of these mechanisms. However, actual experimental verification – which is vital to expediting the design of advanced materials  -- is a challenging task at this scale.

“My work will focus on the computation approach, with the long term goal being to bridge the gap between experimental and computational investigations, and develop reliable and accurate predictive models for analysis and design of NMMs,” Abdolrahim said.

And that is where the Laboratory for Laser Energetics comes into play. “The high performance research facilities at LLE have the capability to conduct experiments at high strain rates close to the computational time scales,” she noted. “This is very important, as I can compare the results of my simulations with the results of real experiments, and get closer to filling the gap between the two approaches.”

Abdolrahim was the department’s first choice among more than 150 applicants to fill the opening created by the retirement of Prof. James C. M. Li last year, Lambropoulos said.

In addition to her research strengths, Abdolrahim has a solid grounding in mechanical engineering, with a bachelor’s degree from Iran University of Science and Technology in 2004 and a PhD from Washington State University in 2013. She also has a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from Tarbiat Modares University in 2007.

“With our enrollments increasing as much as they have, it’s important to have faculty in the department who can have a large teaching portfolio,” Lambropoulos said. “She could teach three quarters of our undergraduate program.”

Though not a determining factor, it is also a plus that Abdolrahim will become MechE’s second female faculty member. The department is aiming for 28 percent female undergraduate  enrollment this fall.

“So we’re very happy that we ended up with another superbly qualified woman on our faculty, “ Lambropoulos said. “We hired the best candidate.”