This grant will establish an interdisciplinary collaborative facility, the Aerogel Fabrication, Characterization, and Applications Lab (AFCAL), for faculty and student researchers in the Mechanical Engineering and Chemistry Departments at Union College. An aerogel is a fragile nanostructure consisting of approximately 90-99% air (volume ratio), contained in an intricate pore structure with pore sizes primarily in the 2 to 50 nm range. An aerogel is formed by a highly cross-linked polymerization reaction and drying phase. The polymerization process forms a solid network surrounded by a liquid (sol-gel). The drying process removes the liquid and leaves behind a delicate pore structure. This pore structure gives aerogels the lowest known density, index of refraction, thermal, electrical, and acoustical conductivities of any solid material.
The funds provided will purchase the equipment necessary to implement two aerogel fabrication techniques: an automated pressure and temperature controlled hydraulic press and a critical point drying system; and equipment to characterize those aerogels: a thermal constants analyzer, a gas adsorption system, an integrating sphere spectrophotometer, and a fluorescence spectrometer.
The AFCAL facility will be used by faculty and students in Mechanical Engineering and Chemistry to: (1) further develop a new aerogel fabrication technique and perform fundamental studies on the effects of chemical reagents and process variables on the aerogel nanostructure, (2) characterize the thermal and optical properties of silica aerogels, (3) use fluorescence spectroscopy to perform fundamental studies of aerogel structure & applications of aerogels to chemical sensing, and (4) develop inorganic-organic scintillator composites and perform fundamental studies of the inclusion chemistry of aerogels.
The Union College Mechanical Engineering and Chemistry Departments have a demonstrated history of excellence in introducing students to research at a formative stage of their academic careers, providing students with coursework that provides the necessary background for success in graduate studies, and placing these students successfully in graduate programs and industrial positions. As a result, these departments have had an impact on the scientific infrastructure of this nation. The four co-PI's will continue to involve undergraduate students in their research, including students from traditionally underrepresented groups, and to encourage their students to consider graduate studies in engineering- and science-related fields and careers in research.