CEMS - The College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences

Conference to feature student research

Release Date: 04-16-2008

Author: The View

Tiny technology: The nanowires barely visible in the vial senior
Zachary Burchman holds in his left hand could help improve the strength and
power of existing nanotechnology devices. (Photo: Sally McCay)It's fitting that UVM's newly created student center should serve as the venue for a wide ranging exhibit of newly created student knowledge.

On April 17 the Dudley H. Davis Center will host the university's first Student Research Conference from 8:30am to 5:30pm in the Silver Maple Ballroom.

Sixty-two undergraduates and 81 graduate students from every UVM college and school will present the results of their original research, scholarship and creative activity via 79 poster presentations and 60 oral presentations.

Research projects cover a wide range of topics, from the Lake Champlain ecosystem, robotics, wireless networks, archaeology, mountaineering, and environmental justice to voting behavior, sustainable development, molecular genetics, nutrition, biofuels, organizational change, immigration, irrigation, and land use.

The event is free and open to the public. Students will be on hand to explain their work in lay language.

Many student research events have been held at the university in the past, according to Frances E. Carr, vice president for research and graduate studies, but they were organized at the unit and departmental level or focused exclusively on graduate student work.

As a premier small research university with a land grant mission, research is vital to UVM's identity, Carr said, and it's important that students be exposed to, participate in, and celebrate the creation of new knowledge.

"This is the beginning of what we hope will be an ongoing and growing celebration of student research institution-wide for years to come."

Profiles of three students' projects provide a glimpse of the breadth of research on display at the conference.

A not-so nanoproject

The hardest part of Zachary Burchman's highly ambitious project, "Synthesis and Categorization of Nickel Nanowires Obtained by Template-Assisted Electrodeposition," wasn't trying to grow nickel nanowires or use an atomic force microscope to test their mechanical properties. It was a requirement that would seem comparatively easy: coming up with three or four lines to describe it.

Burchman decided to start by defining nanowires. "They are very tiny rods of metal that exhibit extraordinary strength when compared to their bulk material counterparts," he says, adding that they have multiple applications in the fields of medicine, aerospace, memory storage, energy storage, and electronics. "The primary focus of my research is in developing a consistent method to create the wires and then physically testing them to verify the consistency. The next stage in this research is to tweak the growth conditions to tailor the wires for a given application."

This required some serious lab work using mini-filters with pores (kind of like a mold) in which he poured nickel to grow the barely visible nanowires. It also required the use of a scanning electron microscope to probe the mechanical properties of the nanowires by shooting electrons at them and by bending them to see how much resistance they could take. The point of nanotechnology, he says, isn't always to make objects smaller, but rather to make things like batteries more powerful without increasing the size of the object they're powering.

Burchman's advisor, Frederic Sansoz, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science in CEMS' School of Engineering, calls the use of the atomic force microscope to probe the mechanical properties of the nanowires "a novel approach" since no research study exists on nickel nanowires where both controlled synthesis and nanomechanical testing have been applied together.

Click here to read the other two profiles.

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