Materials science and engineering student receives NASA fellowship

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Richard Otis, a graduate student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering has been awarded a NASA Space Technology Research Fellowship (NSTRF) for fall 2014. The fellowships support NASA’s goal of creating innovative new space technologies for our nation’s science, exploration and economic future while providing the nation with a pipeline of highly-skilled scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians to improve America's technological competitiveness. The fellows perform innovative, space-technology research, while building the skills necessary to become future technological leaders.

Otis’s research as a space technology fellow will explore the use of 3-D printing technology to create gradient alloys. Additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, has unlocked new possibilities for unprecedented design and control of materials at the microstructural level. While the technology is currently being explored for its potential to expand our use of polymers, ceramics, composite materials and certain metals, Otis hopes to employ the technology in “printing” next generation alloys and developing techniques for bonding metals not currently possible through traditional means.

“Designing new gradient alloys is a difficult process, but I propose an approach based on thermodynamic modeling that will enable us to predict which gradient alloys are feasible and which ones will be too brittle,” Otis said.

Gradient alloys would allow small amounts of one metal to be gradually overlaid with another in varying ratios creating a gradual transition from one metal or alloy to another. Stainless steel and aluminum for example cannot be welded together, but a structural component made of a stainless steel to aluminum gradient alloy could allow stainless steel and aluminum members to be joined without using fasteners. Another possibility is that the thermal expansion coefficient of a gradient alloy could be precisely designed for a particular application.

“My goal is to work with experimental metallurgists at NASA to validate my models and, if successful, build some prototype gradient alloys.”

Otis is advised by Zi-Kui Liu, professor of materials science and engineering, in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

For more information on NASA Space Technology Research Fellowships, visit

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Last Updated April 28, 2014