UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering

Engineers launch cross-border research Center to develop materials that can withstand extreme environments

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Professor Olivia Graeve is the director of the new CaliBaja Center for Resilient Materials and Systems. 

The center will also train engineers who can seamlessly work across the U.S.-Mexico border

San Diego, Calif. May 18, 2016 --The University of California San Diego, in collaboration with the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), is launching a new research center that will bring together researchers from the United States and Mexico to design, test and manufacture materials that can withstand extreme environments, from the heat of airplane engines to the cold of space.  The CaliBaja Center for Resilient Materials and Systems also aims to train engineers who can seamlessly work and communicate across borders.

On May 24, government officials, academics and industry representatives will visit the UC San Diego campus to take part in the center’s inauguration.  Mexico’s Undersecretary of External Affairs, Jose Paulo Carreño King will be joined by Sergio Alcocer, President of the Mexican Academy of Engineering, and many other guests from both sides of the border to formalize the Center.  The event will also include the signing of a memorandum of understanding between UC San Diego, the Baja Aerospace Cluster, the Baja Biomedical Devices Cluster, and CANIETI (Camara Nacional de la Industria Electronica, de Telecomunicaciones y Tecnologías de la Información), Mexico’s trade group representing the electronics, information technology and telecommunications industry.

“The University of California continually demonstrates its leadership in promoting and enhancing partnerships across the U.S.-Mexico border region. UC San Diego is proud to introduce this unique center focused on advancing industry-relevant research, as well as preparing students to thrive in bi-national educational, research and industry environments,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla.

The Center brings together researchers from various disciplines, including nanoengineers, materials scientists and visual artists. Researchers will work together across disciplines and industries to create materials and systems that can function at ultra-high temperatures, under extreme pressures and deformations, radiation and other extreme conditions.  The Center develops materials for a wide range of applications, including defense, nuclear, pharmaceutical and aerospace.

 “We want to make a positive impact on the economy of the CaliBaja region,” said Center Director Olivia Graeve, a professor of materials science at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego.  “We have a significant number of faculty who can contribute to bi-national and bi-cultural connections in this region.”

The aerospace cluster in the CaliBaja region is one of the largest in Latin America, Graeve said.  The region also includes a large biomedical devices cluster.  UC San Diego and UNAM researchers are experts in designing materials that can survive in the extremely acidic and basic environments of biological systems, under the extreme temperatures and pressures that aircraft experience, and in the high radiation environments of nuclear reactors.

Graeve’s career embodies the Center’s spirit of cross-border collaboration.  She was born and raised in Tijuana and graduated with a bachelor’s from UC San Diego.  She then proceeded to earn a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering at UC Davis and held faculty positions at the University of Nevada, Reno, and Alfred University in New York before joining the UC San Diego faculty.  She now spearheads many outreach programs for underrepresented students at UC San Diego and across the border in Tijuana.  She is also the faculty leader for the Jacobs School’s new Student Success Initiative, a master plan for student success, which aims to increase retention and diversity among engineering students at UC San Diego.

“Developing tomorrow’s high-tech, cross-border workforce is critical to the growth of the San Diego-Tijuana region,” Graeve said.

Examples of the Center’s work include:

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Novel atomically thin two dimensional materials such as graphene and hexagonal-boron nitride are among the strongest and most stable materials in nature. This makes these novel materials very promising for devices operating at very high pressures and temperatures. They also offer novel routes to handle liquids at micro and nanoscale and opens new possibilities for biomedical devices, especially for skin based sensors and wearable biomedical devices.

Nanoengineering professor Oscar Vazquez-Mena studies and applies two-dimensional materials such as graphene and hexagonal boron nitride to biomedical devices and clean technologies.  “These materials offer novel routes to handle liquids at the micro- and nano- scales,” Vazquez-Mena said.  “This opens new possibilities for skin-based sensors and wearable biomedical devices.”  In addition, these materials can be used for environmental applications, such as filters and catalytic structures for water desalination and trapping of greenhouse gases.

Professor Olivia Graeve and Professor Javier Garay from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering use spark plasma sintering, which allows them to create materials by applying heat and pressure in extremely short time scales—allowing for significant time and energy savings.  “You can produce materials that normally take hours in an industrial setting in just a few minutes,” Graeve said.

Graeve’s research group has created a material that can withstand temperatures of up to 4000 degrees Fahrenheit before melting, mostly for aerospace applications such as turbine blades.

So far, 26 UC San Diego faculty have joined the Center, as well as 16 UNAM faculty.

The Center will focus on three different areas:

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UC San Diego and UNAM are partnering to develop global scientists and engineers that can connect and communicate across borders.

•             Materials and devices for extreme environments

Researchers will work on the development and manufacturing of new materials and devices for the aerospace, nuclear and biomedical industries.  Examples include advanced materials for jet engines, next-generation nuclear reactors and biomedical devices.

•             The global scientist and engineer

UC San Diego and UNAM are partnering to develop global scientists and engineers that can connect and communicate across borders.  A special emphasis will be placed on the creation of cross-border citizens who are not just developing new technologies, but are also socially engaged and have the cultural understanding necessary to promote economic growth in the CaliBaja region.

•             Environmental technologies and systems

Researchers will work together to develop new technologies that provide information, statistics and trends on the environment and climate of the CaliBaja region.

Companies that become members of the Center will have a wide range of opportunities.  They will have access to research reviews, workshops, short courses, visiting scholar opportunities and one-on-one collaborations; connections to emerging technical talent and the most promising and innovative globally aware students; and cross-border collaborations in the field of new materials and systems for extreme environments.  Members of the Center’s advisory board will have access to fast-track collaborative agreements.

“This Center embodies many of the things we must do to be as relevant as possible for the students, researchers and industries in the bi-national CaliBaja region that we call home,” said Albert P. Pisano, Dean of the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

In addition to Graeve, the Center has two associate directors: Ruben D. Ortiz-Torres, a professor in the Department of Visual Arts at UC San Diego, and Rafael Vazquez-Duhalt, a professor at UNAM’s Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.

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