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Engineering and Chemistry Professors Receive Powe Award to Enrich Research, Growth
Mechanical and aerospace engineering Professor Yeqing Wang from the College of Engineering and Computer Science and chemistry Professor Davoud Mozhdehi from the College of Arts and Sciences were selected as recipients of competitive 2020-2021 Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Awards from the Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU). The Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Awards program provides funds to enrich the research and professional growth of young faculty.
The award will help fund Wang’s research into making the next generation of composite materials more lightning resistant.
Both the power produced by lightning strikes and the damage they can cause are significant. On average, planes are hit by lightning once a year and damage from lightning strikes accounts for more than 23% of insurance claims filed by wind farms in the United States. Repairing damaged aircraft and turbine blades can be costly and often requires them to be taken out of service for a long period of time.
The aerospace and wind energy industries rely on carbon/glass fiber reinforced polymer matrix (CFRP) composite materials for structural materials. These composite materials can have high strength to weight ratios and excellent corrosion and fatigue resistance, but their low electrical conductivity creates a difficult environment for electricity to be dissipated safely.
When a lightning bolt strikes composite material, the temperature in the material rises rapidly. That can eventually lead to resin vaporization, delamination, matrix cracking, fiber breakage and a substantial loss of strength, stiffness and structural service life.
“These components do not work well with electricity,” said mechanical and aerospace engineering Professor Yeqing Wang. “Lightning can produce electrical, thermal, magnetic, and mechanical effects on an aircraft.”
Aerospace companies currently use metal mesh wrapped around the carbon fiber composite to conduct electricity away. That mesh is heavy and adds to fuel consumption. A lightweight coating or a new composite that replaces heavy metal mesh could significantly reduce fuel costs and the cost of repairing bonding between mesh and aircraft.
“With the understanding we gain through our study, we hope to be able to tell manufacturers how to better protect wind turbines and aircraft,” said Wang. “We will be doing computational work and testing to determine failures in composite materials.”
To simulate the effects of a lightning strike on test materials, Wang will be working with the Mississippi State High Voltage Lab and Oak Ridge National Lab.
“We want to observe damage and understand what energy is consumed by fiber breakage or other damage modes,” said Wang. “It is a lot of physics and mechanics inside. We are trying to solve this puzzle.”
Mozhdehi is investigating a nanoparticle that could “trick” its way into the brain, resulting in a novel method of drug delivery.
As the guardian of the brain, the blood-brain barrier (BBB) denies entry to infection-causing toxins and pathogens, while at the same time granting access to healthy nutrients. The flip side of this protection is that the BBB can do its job too well – like when it blocks life-saving cancer drugs. The inability of therapeutics to get past the BBB is why brain cancer is often treated with invasive surgery instead of medicine, but Syracuse University researchers are working to change that.
Mozhdehi and his collaborator Shikha Nangia, associate professor of biomedical and chemical engineering in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, are working with the protein claudin-5, which acts as the gatekeeper in the BBB. Nangia has identified sections of that protein that are responsible for maintaining its barrier properties. By attaching fragments of claudin-5 to the surface of a computer-designed nanoparticle, Mozhdehi and Ph.D. student Md. Shahadat Hossain hope to create a particle that could carry a drug into and through the blood-brain barrier, like a Trojan Horse. The nanoparticle is in a sense disguising itself with claudin-5 fragments in order to fit in with the rest of the barrier proteins.
“When the nanoparticle, attached to a drug, gets to the BBB, it can mix undetected with the barrier,” said Mozhdehi. “That gives it a ‘pass’ to deliver the drug into the brain.”
Both Mozhdehi and Nangia are members of the BioInspired Institute and the Syracuse Biomaterials Institute. These interdisciplinary faculty working groups develop and design programmable smart materials to address global challenges in health, medicine and materials innovation. Their applied research on this project aligns with each group’s mission to promote collaboration on the design of substances to treat the human body.
In the coming months, Mozhdehi and Hossain will produce the nanoparticle and have it tested at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Before the pandemic, Hossain had planned to travel to Oak Ridge and work with Dr. Shuo Qian, staff scientist at ORNL, to evaluate the substance’s stability using the lab’s powerful X-ray machine. Instead, collaborators at the lab will run the experiment and send back the results. Mozhdehi and Hossain will then analyze the data and determine the feasibility of designing a nanoparticle for the next stage of experimental studies.
Mozhdehi’s grant was funded by the ORAU and is being matched by the College of Arts and Sciences and the Office of Research.
The process for internal applications for the 2021-2022 Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Awards is now open. Full-time assistant professors within two years of their initial tenure track appointment may apply. See more details for the internal competition on the Syracuse University Application Portal.