2014 RU RET-E Project Descriptions

Figure 1: A) Example of an inflatable device and B) numerical model of fluid flow around the deformable geometry.

Project #1: Energy Harvesting with Inflatable Windbelts

Faculty Mentor: Aaron Mazzeo

Graduate Student Mentors: Jingjin Xie and Ke Yang


Project Description: We have been simulating and characterizing lift and drag on airfoils with silicone-based inflatable structures. By inflating the elastomeric regions of airfoils, we can alter their surface area and manipulate flow surrounding the entire structure.

The Mazzeo group is expanding the project to study vortex shedding on cylinders or other morphable geometries with fluid flows to create alternative forms of energy harvesting.


- The anticipated methods of transduction from mechanical excitation to electrical output include piezoelectric materials and linear electromagnetic generators.


- A participant would get to work with graduate and undergraduate students on designing, constructing, and testing systems with embedded, inflatable structures.


- After building prototypes and coupling the structures with an electrical generator, we will run experiments in wind tunnels located on campus to characterize their performance/efficiency and the amount of power we can produce.

Figure 2: Carbon nanomaterial growth on Cu–Ni. Here, an SEM image of the (few-layer graphene) FLG on Cu–Ni at a temperature of 850 C. No CNTs are observed. [1].

Project #2: Few-layer graphene synthesis using pulsed laser deposition

Faculty Mentor: Stephen Tse

Graduate Student Mentor: William Mozet


Project Description: Graphene research has surged in recent years due to its incredible properties, such as ballistic electron transport and high tensile strength to weight ratio, suggesting staggering potential applications. Efforts to produce graphene have naturally followed. Using an Nd:YAG laser of 266 nm to ablate highly ordered pyrolytic graphite (HOPG), graphene is fabricated on polished copper substrates for varying times (T = 900ºC, P = 10-5 Torr, E = 50 mJ/pulse). The graphene is examined using Raman spectroscopy with a focus on studying the number of layers grown as a function of the time of deposition using peak intensity ratios. It has been determined that the number of graphene layers decreases with decreasing deposition time while the disorder of the graphene crystals remain unaffected.


This study advances the current state of knowledge on graphene synthesis, aiding in further efforts to not only create graphene, but also study its properties and seemingly countless potential applications.


[1] Memon, N.K., Kear, B.H., and Tse, S.D., "Transition from Carbon-Nanotube to Graphene-Film Growth on Nickel Alloys in Open-Atmosphere Flame Synthesis," Chemical Physics Letters 570:90-94 (2013).

Figure 3: Solar array of Gratzel cells that were constructed using Titanium Dioxide.

Figure 4: Scanned electron micrograph of nanosized titania powder.

Project #3: Solar Cells and Surface Area

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Lisa Klein


Project Description: Solar technology is gaining wide popularity because it is an alternative source of energy.  Teachers will learn how to prepare dye sensitized Gratzel solar cells that incorporate Titanium Dioxide (TiO2). In Figure 3, a solar array comprised of Gratzel cells is presented.  These cells are made from a layer of TiO2 nanoparticles. 


TiO2 is a semiconductor and ubiquitous in commercial products. It provides whiteness and opacity to products such as paints, coatings, plastics, papers, inks, foods, and most toothpaste. TiO2 is also used in sunscreens to block harmful UV B radiation from the sun. 


In this project, a paste of nanometer TiO2 particles and viscous organic compounds is spread onto transparent conductive glass (F-doped SnO2).  A dye is used to absorb the photons. A scanned electron micrograph of nano-sized titania powder is as shown in Figure 4. In Figure 5, an assembled device with electrical contacts.

Figure 5: Assembled device with electrical contacts.

Figure 6: PZT-Carbon multiwalled epoxy thick film with graphene monolayer.[2]

Project #4: Percolative Dielectric Materials for Energy Storage Applications

Faculty Mentor: Kimberly Cook-Chennault

Graduate Student Mentors: Udhay Sundar and Wanlin Du


Project Description: Electrical energy storage plays a key role in electronics, stationary power systems, hybrid electric vehicles and pulse power applications. Traditionally, bulk ceramic dielectric oxides have been used for these applications, though they suffer from inherently low breakdown field strength, which limits the available energy per unit mass (energy density) and increases the dielectric loss. On the other hand, polymers have high break down field strengths, low dielectric losses and can be readily processed into thin films, but suffer from relatively low dielectric permittivity, and thus low energy densities.


This project focuses on development of materials that can be applied to sub-micrometer scale commercial and industrial devices such as, high density DRAM (dynamic access memory), non-volatile memory (NRAM) and capacitors. It is well known that coupling polymer and a dielectric constant material into a composite may address some of the aforementioned challenges, though the mechanisms that lead to higher dielectric constants and minimal dielectric losses are not well understood.


Fellows will fabricate and analyze composite dielectric materials with the aim of understanding the mechanisms that lead to higher dielectric constants and higher breakdown field strengths. An example of a dielectric film is depicted in Figure 6.


[2] Multi-Walled Carbon-Nanotube Based Flexible Piezoelectric Films with Graphene MonolayersS Banerjee, R Kappera, KA Cook-Chennault, M ChhowallaEnergy and Environment Focus 2 (3), 195-202.

Figure 7: Sketch of anticipated ultra-potent "green nanoparticles" synthesized from edible materials: Base particle: chitosan gel with cross-linker: tripolyphosphate (TPP); encapsulated preservative: lysozyme; antimicrobial peptide attached on surface: nisin. .

Project #5: Enhancement of antimicrobial biopolymer nanoparticles by microencapsulation of proteins

Faculty Mentor: Nina Shapely


Project Description: The goal of this project is to explore methods for the successful microencapsulation of preservative protein molecules within chitosan biopolymer gel nanoparticles for antimicrobial applications. We aim to develop a "green" nanoparticle treatment for food or water purification, under the general area of sustainability. The proposed treatment will employ suspensions of cationic, preservative-loaded, antimicrobial peptide-decorated nanoparticles, and involves only edible materials. The synthesis and characterization of preservative-loaded nanoparticles is a critical element of the effectiveness of the antimicrobial treatment.


An participant will synthesize chitosan gel nanoparticles by the dilute solution method, characterize the particles by zetasizing, and quantify the fraction of added protein encapsulated by UV/Vis absorbance spectrophotometry. Since the antimicrobial biopolymers and proteins of interest (e.g. chitosan and lysozyme) are known to have high positive charge, innovative combinations of additives are needed to overcome electrostatic repulsion and promote encapsulation of the protein. Basic salts, sugars, and other proteins are typical additives discussed in the literature that can be investigated. In addition, the encapsulation conditions, such as the rate and method of mixing and the relative composition of solutions, can influence the resulting particles. In addition to learning zetasizing and UV/Vis techniques, the student will become familiar with basic laboratory operations such as centrifugation and sonication and will analyze the resulting data in detail in frequent consultation with the advisor and fellow students.

Figure 8: Depiction of a ZEBRA battery.

Figure 8: Depiction of a ZEBRA battery.

Project #6: Developing glasses for their application in ZEBRA batteries

Faculty Mentor: Ashu Goel


Project Description: ZEBRA battery (Technical name: Na-NiCl2 battery, depicted in Figure 8) was invented in 1985 by the Zeolite Battery Research Africa Project (ZEBRA) group led by Dr. Johan Coetzer in South Africa. ZEBRA battery operates at ~250 C and utilizes molten sodium aluminum chloride (NaAlCl4) as the electrolyte, molten sodium as negative electrode and nickel in discharged state and nickel chloride (NiCl2) in charged state as positive electrode. Since both NaAlCl4 and Na are liquid at the operating temperature, a sodium-conducting beta-alumina (Al2O3) ceramic is used to separate the liquid sodium from molten NaAlCl4 while alpha-Al2O3 is used as an insulating collar and a suitable glass based material is applied to join the two ceramic components.


The purpose of the glass seal is to maintain a hermetic and robust sealing between alpha- and beta-Al2O3 ceramic components in the battery while being exposed to hostile alkali- and halide vapor rich environment at operating temperatures.


The primary requirements for designing a suitable glass sealant for ZEBRA batteries are as follows: minimum thermal expansion mismatch between glass and ceramic components; high thermal shock resistance; high chemical resistance towards alkali vapors and low electrical conductivity.