Doctoral student receives National Nuclear Security Administration fellowship

Matthew Carroll
June 04, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — John Shimanek, a doctoral student in materials science and engineering, was one of five students from across the country selected for a federal fellowship program.

Shimanek will join the 2020-21 class of the Department of Energy (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Stewardship Science Graduate Fellowship.

The NNSA is a federal agency responsible for enhancing national security with a focus on nuclear science. The fellowship program aims to develop the next generation of leaders by providing support to doctoral students in fields like materials science and physics.

“It’s a great honor to be named a fellow,” Shimanek said. “To get a chance to have the intellectual freedom to make your own research project is really cool.”

Zi-Kui Liu, distinguished professor of materials science and engineering, and Allison Beese, associate professor of materials science and engineering and mechanical engineering, are Shimanek’s advisers at Penn State.

“John is an excellent student, and a pleasure to work with,” Beese said. “His curiosity drives his careful and methodical approach to research, and this prestigious fellowship will provide him with indispensable tools toward achieving scientifically and technologically important findings.”

Shimanek’s research focuses on modeling the plasticity of metals. Through the fellowship, he proposes to design a new, bottom-up approach to modeling deformation from the atomic scale.

“When you bend metal there is an elastic period where it will stretch and go back to its original position,” Shimanek said. “But you can also bend it past that point, and it will stay in that new position. That’s plastic deformation.”

Understanding deformation is important in materials design and can lead to better manufacturing processes and products for a wide range of industries, he said. Metal in cars, for example, is designed to harden as it deforms during an accident.

Models that simulate this process at the grain level — where deformation occurs — largely rely on experiments and observations from a larger scale, like parts that have already been manufactured.

Shimanek seeks to build a new model that can identify deformations at the atomic scale, and to use that information to build better grain-scale models.

He hopes this bottom-up approach can be integrated into materials design models, allowing industry to better understand how to make specific, often complex, parts.

“As components get more optimized in terms of their materials, it would be nice to be able to predict how tweaking those materials would change the components’ mechanical response without having to actually make and test the part,” he said.

Through the fellowship, Shimanek will receive a stipend, full tuition and an academic allowance. The program also includes a three-month practicum at a DOE national laboratory site.

“I grew up 10 minutes away from Argonne National Laboratory, so when I think ‘science,’ I think ‘national lab,’” he said. “To be able to see what that career path is like will be really great.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated June 04, 2020