Group name: Nanomaterials Processing Laboratory

Lead professor: Olivia A. Graeve

Location: University of California, San Diego, USA

Olivia Graeve and her research group. Credit: Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications.
Olivia Graeve and her research group. Credit: Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications.

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Materials engineering under pressure

The materials from which jet engines, nuclear reactors, and biomedical devices are built often have to operate in extreme environments – whether that be temperature, pressure, exposure to radiation or acidic conditions. The ability to tolerate extraordinary real-world conditions is essential in aerospace, defense, energy, pharmaceutical, and advanced manufacturing.

Olivia A. Graeve, Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in the Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California, San Diego, has dedicated her career to developing the expertise to design, control, and characterize just such novel materials. Materials Today talked to Olivia about her research and her latest endeavor, the CaliBaja Center for Resilient Materials and Systems, which promises a unique cross-border effort between the United States and Mexico to develop materials and systems for extreme environments…

How long has your group been running?

I have been at UC San Diego for almost four years and have been running my lab since then. I also have a new research center, the CaliBaja Center for Resilient Materials and Systems, which was established in November 2015 by the Dean of Engineering. The center, which is home to a variety of faculty, has just had its official public inauguration on May 24th 2016.

How many staff make up your group?

My own research group consists of 28 students and researchers. My new research center consists of 42 faculty and researchers from across the UC San Diego campus, as well as collaborators from the United States and Mexico, in particular the Centro de Nanociencias y Nanotecnología (CNyN-UNAM) in Ensenada, from various disciplines including nanoengineering, materials science, and the visual arts.

What are the major themes of research in your group?

The major themes in my own research are fundamental studies of the synthesis and processing of nanostructured materials, including ceramic and metallic nanomaterials and amorphous/nanocrystalline composites for both structural and functional applications, with a special emphasis on electromagnetic multifunctional materials for sensors and energy applications.

The new center, meanwhile, will aim to foster the design, testing, and manufacture of materials that can withstand extreme environments, from the scorching heat of an aeroplane engine to the subzero temperatures of space. Researchers will work on creating materials and systems that can operate in ultra-high temperatures, extreme pressures and deformations, and when exposed to radiation. These conditions are an every-day experience for materials in the defense, nuclear, pharmaceutical, and aerospace industries.

Composite of Fe-based amorphous metal and tungsten particles prepared by spark plasma sintering.
Composite of Fe-based amorphous metal and tungsten particles prepared by spark plasma sintering.

How and why did you come to work in these areas?

I was inspired by my undergraduate research advisor, Professor Joanna McKittrick, during my junior and senior year of college at UC San Diego. I enjoyed working in her lab and playing around with chemicals to produce new materials.

What facilities and equipment does your group have?

The lab has a variety of materials manufacturing and characterization equipment, including: furnaces, centrifuges, glove boxes, as well as an X-ray diffraction system, thermal analysis equipment, and dynamic light scattering systems.

The Center currently has a variety of equipment for mechanical properties characterization, including several Hopkinson bars and a gas gun for measurement of impact on materials.

Do you have a favorite piece of kit or equipment?

I do not . . . I like everything in my lab!

What has been your highest impact/most influential work to date?

In the last few years, I have worked on improving the elastic limit of Fe-based amorphous metals (known as metallic glasses). We have recently published two papers on this topic (see references), which have received huge interest.  I have no doubt that this material will result in significant improvements to several technologies where materials with high impact resistant are desired.

Porous structures describing the mechanisms of pore formation in tantalum carbide ceramics.
Porous structures describing the mechanisms of pore formation in tantalum carbide ceramics.

What is the key to running a successful group?

It is a difficult problem for sure, but a fun one to manage.  As a full Professor, I have a multitude of activities and responsibilities to manage with my students and with the University. I usually break my week into four parts; Monday/Tuesday I focus on my research lab; Wednesdays are for leading the efforts of the IDEA Student Center (for which I currently serve as Faculty Director,; and Thursday is set aside for the CaliBaja Center. Friday is the day I commit to whichever items require the most additional attention. Teaching is also embedded throughout the week.

How do you plan to develop the group in the future?

I have several key research agendas for my research group. One, in particular, is the study of morphology control during sintering of ceramic and metallic materials. This is an area we have been slowly developing in my group and we are now poised to make significant contributions.

The CaliBaja Center for Resilient Materials and Systems, meanwhile, is one of the Dean of UC San Diego’s eight Agile Research Centers, and by definition shall be highly responsive to industry. With that in mind, the Center will continue to evolve based on the needs of industry.

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Key publications

  1. G.R. Khanolkar, M.B. Rauls, J.P. Kelly, O.A. Graeve, A.M. Hodge, and V. Eliasson. Shock Wave Response of Iron-based In Situ Metallic Glass Matrix Composites. Scientific Reports, 6 (2016) 22568.
  2. J.P. Kelly, S.M. Fuller, K. Seo, E. Novitskaya, V. Eliasson, A.M. Hodge, and O.A. Graeve. Designing In Situ and Ex Situ Bulk Metallic Glass Matrix Composites from Marginal Glass Formers via Spark Plasma Sintering in the Super Cooled Liquid State. Materials & Design93 (2016) 26.
  3. L.A. Zavala-Sanchez, G.A. Hirata, E. Novitskaya, K. Karandikar, M. Herrera, and O.A. Graeve. Distribution of Eu2+and Eu3+ Ions in Hydroxyapatite: A Cathodoluminescence and Raman Study. ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering1 [12] (2015) 1306.
  4. J.P. Kelly and O.A. Graeve. Mechanisms of Pore Formation in High-temperature Carbides: Case Study of TaC Prepared by Spark Plasma Sintering. Acta Materialia84 (2015) 472.
  5. J.A. Inzana, D. Olvera, S.M. Fuller, J.P. Kelly, O.A. Graeve, E.M. Schwarz, S.L. Kates, and H.A. Awad. 3D Printing of Composite Calcium Phosphate and Collagen Scaffolds for Bone Regeneration. Biomaterials35 [13] (2014) 4026.
  6. O.A. Graeve, M.S. Saterlie, R. Kanakala, S. Diaz de la Torre, and J.C. Farmer. The Kinetics of Devitrification of Amorphous Alloys: The Time-Temperature-Crystallinity Diagram Describing the Spark Plasma Sintering of Fe-Based Metallic Glasses. Scripta Materialia, 69 [2] (2013) 143.
  7. M.S. Saterlie, H. Sahin, B. Kavlicoglu, Y. Liu, and O.A. Graeve. Surfactant Effects on Dispersion Characteristics of Copper-based Nanofluids: A Dynamic Light Scattering Study. Chemistry of Materials24 [17] (2012) 3299.
  8. H. Fathi, J.P. Kelly, V.R. Vasquez, and O.A. Graeve. Ionic Concentration Effects on Reverse Micelle Size and Stability: Implications for the Synthesis of Nanoparticles. Langmuir28 [25] (2012) 9267.
  9. O.A. Graeve, R. Kanakala, A. Madadi, B.C. Williams, and K.C. Glass. Luminescence Variations in Hydroxyapatites doped with Eu2+ and Eu3+ Ions. Biomaterials, 31 [15] (2010) 4259.