By Alyssa Yancey
With unique facilities and the Dallas-Fort Worth area offering the nation's sixth largest economy, the University of North Texas is an attractive partner for collaborations with industry. Add the university's engineering expertise, and 2011 brought UNT two new National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center sites in addition to its existing I/UCRC. The NSF oversees about 60 of the prestigious centers across the country.
In 2007, Krishna Kavi, professor of computer science and engineering, received funding to create an I/UCRC — the Net-Centric Software and Systems Center — at UNT. And in 2011, I/UCRC sites of the Center for Advanced Non-Ferrous Structural Alloys and the Center for Friction Stir Processing were added.
The NSF developed the centers to create a stronger link between industry and academia. They are primarily funded by industry partners, who receive royalty-free access to industry-relevant research. The centers also help create a future workforce by giving students hands-on training and real-world learning opportunities.
"The centers address key pre-competitive issues facing industry and educate a diverse set of students," says Rathindra DasGupta, I/UCRC program director in the NSF Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships. "The program maintains as its goal the building of the innovative capacity of the nation."
Peter Collins, UNT site director for the Center for Advanced Non-Ferrous Structural Alloys and assistant professor of materials science and engineering, says a decreased emphasis on developing and improving the structural alloys that dominate the materials field has left industry searching for academic resources and employees knowledgeable in "the basic research so critical in making breakthroughs in materials, manufacturing and applications."
More than 20 university-based materials science programs have shuttered their doors over the last several decades, and others have shifted their curricula away from traditional metallurgy. These changes were "precipitated by limited funding, not a decline in need," Collins says, so he and his UNT colleagues worked with Michael Kaufman at the Colorado School of Mines to develop an I/UCRC proposal providing opportunities for industry and students. The result was a center that boasts experts in both experimental and computational materials science, including at least six UNT professors.
"The center will look at theory and modeling, characterization and processing to identify ways to improve the performance of structural alloys," Collins says. "This has applications in defense, transportation, energy and a number of other fields."
The National Science Foundation developed Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers to create a stronger link between industry and academia. The I/UCRC program provides industry, government and other organizations with a way to leverage research and development investments through centers renowned for their innovative research capabilities. The centers are primarily funded by industry partners, who receive royalty-free access to the research.
The Net-Centric Software and Systems Center, created at UNT in 2007, works with AMD, Boeing, Brainstorm Technology, Cisco, EDS/HP, EndoMetric, GlobeRanger, Intel, IQ Engines, LG Electronics, Lockheed Martin Corp., Lockheed Martin Aero, Raytheon, Revere Security, Tektronics and Texas Instruments.
The Center for Advanced Non-Ferrous Structural Alloys, created in 2011 with a site at UNT, works with Advanced Material Solutions Inc., Boeing, Carpenter Technology Corp., GE Aviation, Honeywell, the North American Die Casting Association, Phygen, Plansee, Queen City Forging Co. and Timet.
The Center for Friction Stir Processing was created in 2004. The site brought to UNT in 2011 works with the Army Research Laboratory, Boeing, General Motors, Magnesium Elektron North America, NASA Johnson Space Center and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
The collaboration, which officially began in July 2011, already has secured partnerships with industry giants like Boeing and Honeywell. The industry partners pay an annual fee to be part of the center and in exchange receive a vote in the project selection process.
Graham McIntosh is director of global technology initiatives at Carpenter Technology Corp., one of the partners. He says the center will help advance the research and development capabilities of the company as well as provide potential future employees.
"It will integrate students with relevant industrial research, and interested candidates could move from academia to industry, possibly accelerating product commercialization," McIntosh says.
The center initially will focus on lightweight alloys, high-performance alloys and advanced alloys and processes. Collins says that research into the development of lightweight alloys could help aviation and automotive manufacturers create lighter vehicles that are more fuel efficient while still retaining their strength. He says the center will greatly benefit from UNT's resources.
"The facilities at UNT, including the state-of-the-art microscopy facilities associated with the Center for Advanced Research and Technology, will be vital to conducting the research," Collins says. "Equally important are the exceptional materials science faculty and students."
The team hopes to learn more about unpredictable processes, like fatigue, by using experimental and modeling techniques. Understanding how far an alloy can be pushed before it reaches its breaking point would allow the aviation industry to more efficiently prevent the failure of airplane skins, improving safety and reducing costs.
"Traditionally, it would take $50 million and 10 years to develop solutions to some of the problems investigated through trial and error, but with the resources the I/UCRC brings together, both experimental and computational, we should be able to reduce the cost and time significantly," Collins says.
In August 2011, Rajiv Mishra joined UNT as a professor of materials science and engineering, bringing with him his site for the Center for Friction Stir Processing. Mishra originally established the site at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in 2005. He says he chose to move it to UNT because of the university's well-developed research cluster approach, faculty expertise and proximity to industry.
Like Collins' site, the Center for Friction Stir Processing is working on improving the performance of alloys. Mishra and his colleagues at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Brigham Young University, Wichita State University and the University of South Carolina are advancing friction stir processing, a new technology that manipulates a material's microstructure to alter its properties. The technology eventually could serve as a more efficient method to join and form metallic materials.
"This is the next generation of manufacturing," Mishra says. "It is a very clean technology. There are no fumes and no smoke."
In one of Mishra's areas of study, he investigates the advantages of using friction stir processing in forming. The process can be used to give metallic alloys super plasticity at high temperatures, allowing forming of complex integrated parts, like seats or doors. The process can be localized to a small area of the material to allow for greater definition.
The center also is investigating ways to make magnesium alloys, which are lighter than alternatives like aluminum, stronger and more resistant to corrosion. Boeing and General Motors are particularly interested in this application.
Mishra says the relationships he has developed with industry partners over the years have become a valuable asset outside the center, providing opportunities for other contracts and grants.
"Having the support of large industry partners is very advantageous when we apply for other projects. They bring us additional projects outside of the realm of the center and step up to support us in our other proposals," Mishra says.
He adds that one of the most beneficial elements of an I/UCRC for industrial partners is the development of a future workforce.
"Industries get access to students who are already working on their projects and are ready to go from day one," he says. "We have had many of our students go to work for our sponsors."
Ten to 12 graduate and undergraduate students will be supported by Mishra's I/UCRC site, which should be fully up and running by the fall of 2012.
Kavi, director of the Net-Centric Software and Systems Center, is working to improve battlefield communication. Soldiers often rely on hand signals to communicate with one another in the field, but this method can be inefficient.
Kavi is developing hand sensors that would pick up soldiers' signals and send them to their unit's smartphones.
"When the Navy Seals went into Bin Laden's compound, they had to yell to one another to communicate, which may have alerted the inhabitants of their presence and led to loss of life," Kavi says. "The technology we are developing would make these kinds of missions safer and more efficient."
UNT is the lead university for the center, which focuses on a collaborative approach to research and development in net-centric systems — software and information available over a network or in a central location rather than on individual computers. The center also includes Arizona State University, the University of Texas at Dallas and Southern Methodist University and more than 15 industry partners. Kavi hopes another university will be joining within the year, providing resources for administration and marketing.
In addition to their groundbreaking work, the partners have been able to secure funding for work outside the center. Three of the partners, including UNT, received a $1 million grant from the NSF to study quality of service for cloud computing and software systems that use service-oriented architecture. The center has active projects related to quality of service analysis and assurance with Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Texas Instruments. It also conducts research on next generation processors and memory systems. In particular, Kavi is working with AMD 3-D memories and PCM based solid-state drives.
"Dr. Kavi's center has given me an incredible opportunity to work closely with Advanced Micro Devices, a top company in the computer industry doing exciting, bleeding-edge research," says Jared Sherman, a master's student in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. "The experience I have gained will certainly be integral to my future career."
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