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Faculty member Xinyu Zhang recently received a $150,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for his project, "Collaborative Research: Geopolymeric Nanocomposite, A Next Generation Material for Infrastructure Sustainability." Zhang and his team are studying carbon nanotube growth on surfaces to develop inexpensive and high-performing nanocomposites that can be used in construction materials, inorganic adhesives and resins and sensing elements in intelligent structures for the aerospace and automotive industries.
His research will also include using microwave irradiation to initiate ultra-fast carbon nanotube growth on conducting polymer-coated fly ash and materials such as glass fibers, as well as investigating the mechanism of the carbon nanotube growth. It will demonstrate the enhancement of composite materials in electrical, mechanical and thermal properties with the addition of the modified engineering materials.
A portion of the grant was awarded to encourage and help undergraduate students to obtain hands-on experience in the research lab. The award will support one undergraduate student in the form of a 12-month stipend.
Zhang also recently received a university grant to use microwave irradiation to recycle ground tire rubber or shredded waste tire rubber. This process can be considered a green, sustainable technique for societal, economic and environmental benefits due to the high-efficiency nature of microwave heating. If successful, this project will help to solve the challenge of recycling waste tire rubber.
Zhang published a paper in the peer-reviewed journal Chemical Communications that discusses his poptube approach to growing carbon nanotubes on a variety of material substrates, which refers to the use of microwave radiation to grow carbon nanotubes in the same way a microwave oven quickly cooks popcorn.
Zhang’s research has also been featured in Nature, the world's most highly cited interdisciplinary science journal, as well as in the American Chemical Society’s weekly publication, Chemical & Engineering News.