Archive for September 2011
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You are browsing the archives of 2011 September.
Two things out of the box: First, remember, permissum lector caveo (translation: What the hell does Peter know, anyway?). Second, the opinions expressed below are totally my own and should be blamed on no one else.
Thus forewarned … Nature has what strikes me as a very disturbing article out regarding the interesting ways funds from the American Recovery Reinvestment Act—you know, the ones earmarked to provide a sharp stimulus to direct and indirect hiring and spending in the science–technology sector—are being used for obviously non-stimulus purposes.
The story, “Stimulus-Response,” carries this summary one-liner: ”The United States’ 2009 financial stimulus bill has provided research with breathing space, rather than the sharp shot in the arm that many anticipated.”
(FYI, just so readers know where I am coming from, my personal point of view is that these types of stimulus programs can be excellent tools to quickly strengthen aggregate demand in the economy, especially during periods when borrowing rates are nearly zero, as long as the funding 1) is substantial in total size; 2) gets into the private economy; and 3) gets into economy quickly.)
Story author Colin Macilwain, seems like he is playing it overly safe or is unable to be able to make up his mind about what’s going on. On one hand, he correctly acknowledges that “the stimulus package as a whole was designed to create jobs and ease the pain of the recession, and at first the administration pledged to get this money distributed and spent as quickly as possible.” [emphasis added]
But from there onwards, the piece is a series of vignettes – focused on ARRA monies available at NIH, NSF and DOE’s Office of Science (collectively $15.1 billion) – about how interesting it is that researchers and institutions have unexpectedly used much of the money to buy “breathing space” for what already exists. For example, there’s this,
From the beginning, however, the funding pulse didn’t have quite the anticipated effects. Duke University in Durham, N.C., for example, expected a hiring rush after it attracted $210 million in ARRA funds, making it one of the ten most successful universities in the country in this regard, says Jim Siedow, Duke’s vice-provost for research. But staffing barely budged. “We gave a party that nobody came to,” he says. “A lot of people used the money to keep the people they already had.”
In the next paragraph, Macilwain reports
[D]espite the early political pressure to get the money out of the door quickly, agencies have allowed funds to be released gradually, to avoid waste.
Macilwain does suggest that whatever claims of job creation reported under ARRA funding are suspect because they rely on self-reported data and may reflect the continuation of previously existing jobs.
Finally, a chart accompanying the story says that NIH, NSF and the Office of Science have only spent 55 percent of their ARRA allocations. (In fact, DOE, alone, has left unspent $15 billion of ARRA money.)
Macilwain is overly generous when he describes what’s going on as a “stretching out and morphing.” He and Nature may not want to say it, but this pretty clearly indicates some enormous failures in the ARRA.
Let me be clear here: The criticism isn’t that the monies won’t eventually be helpful to R&D — they will be. My criticism is that the monies, now, can’t be helpful in the ways that would have been the most helpful and with the greatest impact for science and the nation.
The most glaring failure is that the administration and these agencies have not spent the ARRA money fast enough. As I have written before, I think that DOE Secretary Steven Chu was exactly right when in February 2009, just two days after the ARRA legislation was signed, he announced “a sweeping reorganization of the DOE’s dispersal of direct loans, loan guarantees and funding contained in the new recovery legislation. The goal of the restructuring is to expedite disbursement of money to begin investments in a new energy economy that will put Americans back to work and create millions of new jobs.” Chu also went on to promise to disperse 70 percent of the investment by the end of 2010.
But, the DOE didn’t come close to that dispersement goal in 2010 and it looks like it won’t make it by the end of 2011 either. As the chart above indicates, the agency reports this week that it has only spent 56 percent of its ARRA funds. With unemployment around 10 percent, leaving $15 billion on the table is an administrative shame and embarrassment.
A couple of important distinctions and economic points must be made here in regard to the concept of “spending” in this context. ARRA money that is held by a principle investigator or an institution but unspent is far different than DOE, NSF or NIH unspent monies. Dispersed money is in the economy and is arguably stimulating, well, something. Undispersed money is not in the economy and stimulates nothing because it is “funny money” that doesn’t really exist until the checks are sent and cashed. It’s not like DOE has the undispersed $15 billion in a bank account somewhere.
Put even another way, by definition, as soon as either funder or fundee starts to play the game of “stretching out and morphing” nondispersed stimulus funds, the funds cease to be able to stimulate anything.
In its defense, the DOE would probably point to the approximate 45,000 jobs it claims to have created via the ARRA, but as noted above, that number would hold more weight if it was verified and actually represented all new jobs.
What went wrong? My guess is a couple of factors have created failures at the policy level. The first factor is that it appears that the agencies have been overly preoccupied with accountability. Regardless of the Solyndra situation (which still looks to me to be about malfeasance and not accountability), DOE and the others should have figured out a way to issue all ARRA funding shortly after it was allocated. (All of the DOE funding has been allocated for over a year.) Unemployment has been and still is a much bigger problem in theory and in fact than the possible misuse of ARRA money.
The second factor is that long-standing agency habits are really, really hard to break. I spent much of two decades trying to change and redesign/reengineer government operations. Getting a large bureaucracy to implement something like a large novel stimulus funding effort is very difficult, but it can be done.
Along these lines, one mystery is what happened to Matt Rogers? Chu selected Rogers, who had been working on energy issues at the well known McKinsey & Co. consultancy, to be the DOE ramrod for whatever changes were needed in the agency to expedite the grants, loans and loan guarantees, and he was given the title Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Energy for Recovery Act Implementation.
Rogers, however, was never very visible to those of us on the outside. On occasion, he would be tasked with making some public appearances. But, while other federal agencies were quick to spend their ARRA money, as I have reported on many times, DOE was slow to spend from the start.
I suspect that Rogers was the right man for in the wrong job. I don’t doubt he had expertise in energy market strategic planning, but I don’t think he had any systems management expertise or track record in this field. It didn’t help that Rogers engaged in the allocation-versus-spending word games or criticism of us writers who nagged about the DOE’s sluggish dispersements. Cocky, premature and inaccurate videos about job creation were also a mistake.
Rogers claimed in September 2010 that DOE jobs would peak during that quarter at 45,000 and hold that level for the next six quarters. In fact, as is apparent in the above graph, (self-reported) jobs numbers didn’t reach or surpass 45,000 until the first quarter of 2011 and appear to be heading downwards already. I, for one, am not surprised that Rogers has quietly returned to his post at McKinsey & Co.
For researchers, keeping a steady flow of funds is never easy. Likewise postdocs and post-postdocs are looking for new opportunities, and lab suppliers are struggling to crawl out of the recession. So, I get that people have to resort to “stretching and morphing” when times are particularly tough. But there is still more than $15 billion unspent. Let’s focus on acknowledging and fixing the ARRA funding bottle necks instead of making up terms that paper-over how dysfunctional things are.
Here’s what we are hearing:
PPG Industries announced that it is increasing its global precipitated silica production capacity by more than 18,000 tons per year in response to growing global demand. The capacity expansion includes projects at PPG’s Lake Charles, La., and Delfzijl, Netherlands, manufacturing locations. PPG pioneered the development of synthetic precipitated silica, becoming one of the first manufacturers to bring them to market in the 1930s. Today, PPG’s silica products business is a global leader in the manufacture of precipitated silica for tire, battery separator, carrier, coatings, industrial rubber, footwear and silicone end-use applications. The business also makes TESLIN substrate, a microporous sheet material used for card, specialty print, in-mold graphic, tag and label use, as well as technology-focused applications such as e-Passports and RFID cards and labels.
Gibbard has more than 30 years of experience in battery and fuel cell businesses, having served as vice president for research, Development and advanced engineering at Duracell and as CEO of the fuel cell company H Power Corp. At H Power he led a $104 million IPO that resulted in a NASDAQ listing in 2000. He holds a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the MIT and is a frequent speaker at technical and business conferences on electrochemical energy storage. Huang is a seasoned financial executive with 18 years of experience with U.S. companies, ranging from controller to CFO. He is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and experienced in the financial management of joint US-Chinese companies. His experience in setting up and managing operations in China is particularly valuable for Altair’s expansion in global markets.
Mettler Toledo is pleased to issue a new white paper that provides points to consider when defining operating boundaries, and data objectives for transfer of weighing process data to PLC, MES or ERP systems. Efficient transfer of weighing process data to higher level PLC, MES or ERP systems makes manufacturing processes more efficient and more transparent. It can result in more accurate or faster filling and control processes. Increased transparency can improve asset use, reduce operating costs, and make complying with certification standards or industrial regulations easier. But identifying and implementing the most effective system for data transfer and integration can be challenging.
A critical challenge in the commercialization of solid oxide fuel cells is the selection and manufacture of components that will last for thousands of hours, but at an economical cost. NexTech Materials Ltd. has performed accelerated stability tests that predict a service life of over 40,000 hours at 750°C for low cost ferritic steel (AL 441 HP) interconnect components protected by its manganese-cobalt spinel. coatings. This achievement represents a critical milestone for intermediate temperature solid oxide fuel cells. To date, SOFC system lifetime has been limited by the metal component oxidation. As demonstrated by NexTech, MCO protective coatings reduce the oxidation rate of ferritic steels by a factor of twenty or more.
Momentive Performance Materials Inc.’s Quartz & Ceramics is expanding its specialty quartz production facility in Geesthacht, Germany. The $14 million expansion project t will enable Momentive to meet increasing global demand for its high-purity specialty fused quartz crucibles, used by the photovoltaic industry to produce solar wafers and the semiconductor industry in the production of computer chips. The company manufactures a variety of specialty products that are essential to the photovoltaic wafer and semiconductor microchip production, including fused quartz crucibles used to “grow” silicon ingots, large-diameter fused quartz tubing, rods, and solid ingot in which silicon wafers are processed to make microchips.
Transparent conducting oxides constitute an important class of electronic materials and are used for applications such as flat panel displays, solar cells and touch panels. TCOs are doped semiconducting oxides and example compositions include tin-doped indium oxide, aluminum-doped zinc oxide and indium-doped cadmium oxide. The most-used commercial composition is tin-doped indium oxide, or indium tin oxide.
ITO films are usually synthesized by sputtering or physical vapor deposition. Such films have about 85 percent optical transparence in the visible range and low electrical resistivities. However, these are high-energy, vacuum-based technologies, which means they are expensive. In multilayers, the films are brittle.
The Andreas Roosen group at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (Germany) published a paper in the Journal of the American Ceramic Society (available now via Early View) that investigates a well-established forming technique—tape casting—to ITO fabrication. Tape casting is economical, scalable and is a proven way to fabricate other multilayer devices.
An electroluminescent lamp, which can also be thought of as a “luminescent capacitor,” is a multilayer device comprising a protective layer, transparent front electrode, luminescent layer, reflective dielectric layer, opaque rear electrode and a final protective layer. The corresponding materials stack is PET, ITO, ZnS:Cu, BaTiO3, Ag, PET. The light is generated in the luminescent zinc sulfide layer and emits from the device through the ITO layer.
The Roosen group made ITO slurries with varying ITO particle loads and amounts of binders, plasticizers, etc. Slurries were also prepared of the other functional layers (ZnS:Cu, BaTiO3 and silver). ITO tapes were cast using a fixed casting head with two doctor blades onto a silicon-coated PET carrier tape. Several thicknesses were made, and the green tapes were very flexible because of the binder and plasticizer contents. Binders were burned out at 650°C for two hours, but the tapes were not fired.
Electroluminescent lamps were fabricated by laminating the layers in the stack in a uniaxial hot press. The optical transmission of the device was 60-70 percent and was found to be dependent on the thickness of the ITO layer. The electrical conductivity of the devices was found to depend on the ratio of ITO to organic additives. The organics, though contributed to the flexibility of the tapes.
The authors conclude, “Bright electroluminescence of the lamps could be observed even under bending, thus proving the functionality and applicability of the ITO tapes manufactured in the unfired state.”
Not addressed in the paper is whether the process might be useful for other TCO materials. Between 2004 and 2006 the price per kilogram of indium increased from $700 to $900, but dropped to $600 by 2008. With the cost of indium being high and volatile, there are economic incentives to developing aluminum-doped zinc oxide into an acceptable alternative.
Full details are in the paper: “Tape Casting of ITO Green Tapes for Flexible Electroluminescent Lamps,” by Nadja Straue, Martin Rauscher, Martina Dressler and Andreas Roosen (doi:10.1111/j.1551-2916.2011.04836.x).
Yale University at Lehigh University
Oct. 1, 12:30 p.m., ET
Both of these teams know their football and have rich traditions. Lehigh, I’m told, has the longest running matchup in college football in their 146-game rivalry with Lafayette. At Yale, “The Game,” (meaning the Harvard contest) is much anticipated every year.
However, these guys play each other tough.
At stake is the Yank Townsend Trophy, which honors Lehigh alum (class of 1895) and Connecticut resident, Charles Frederick Townsend, a big fan of athletics at both schools. Yale was first to take it home in 2006 and has been able to hang onto it with two wins since then, including a 7-0 shutout win in 2009. Lehigh’s older players are still smarting from that, and sure would love to be the next custodians of the Yank Townsend Trophy
My pick? Tough call, but I’ll go with Lehigh in a hard-fought, close game.
Up close and personal describe Lehigh’s department of materials science and engineering. And, Lehigh’s concept of up close is really up close, like electron microscope close.
The department has a long tradition of excellence in microscopy, backed up by a clean sweep of this year’s International Metallographic Society’s annual contest. Two Lehigh teams tied for first place honors and third place also went to a Lehigh team (no second place prize this year). Department head, Helen Chan says the department has some entries into this year’s ACerS Ceramographic Contest, so don’t be surprised if some Mountain Hawks are in the winner’s circle at MS&T in Columbus in a few weeks.
The department has a scanning electron microscope and transmission electron microscope dedicated to undergraduate activity. Senior Chris Marvel says the electron microscopy course has been his favorite so far: “[Electron microscopy] takes several principles from quantum mechanics and utilizes them to extract topographical or chemical characteristics of a sample.” In fact, it is the relationship between “materials on the smallest possible scale” and properties that drew him to study materials.
First-year engineering students at Lehigh participate in a common curriculum, which includes a project-oriented course designed to introduce students to the many flavors of engineering. Students choose two projects to “test drive” the major. This year students will be designing and casting aluminum putter heads using the lost foam process. Open house department tours are held several times during the year, and of course, include stops at the microscopy station. As Chan says, “Microscopy is a big deal with us.”
In addition to a BS degree, there are three minor programs: nanotechnology, polymer science and engineering and mechanics of materials. Also offered is a five-year program that leads to a BS and a BA degree in the arts, and another five-year program leads to a BS and a master’s of education. Finally, an integrated and business engineering functions similar to an honors program.
In the upper years, there are two options for students to get hands-on experience. The industrial option give students a for-credit opportunity to work at a local company, and they function like part-time internships. A very popular option, it sometimes leads to a paid internship.
The research option is a for-credit opportunity for students to work in a professor’s lab. Students participate during the school year or over the summer, and many will register for research credit for several semesters, allowing them to see how a scientific investigation evolves.
Lehigh is also home to the NSF-sponsored International Materials Institute for New Functionality in Glass, which recently won a second five-year grant. Partnering with Penn State University, IMI conducts an REU program in the summer, and has been strongly engaged in sponsoring international research exchanges (see the September Bulletin), including some for undergrads.
Once students find their way to MSE—and about 30 per class do—they find themselves in a close-knit group. A highlight of the year is the annual winter banquet, where Marvel says “you learn a lot about the professors in an atmosphere that is not as formal.” Chan says there even have been several marriages between undergrads in the department.
The easy relationship between faculty and students extends into the community, too. The department has partnered with the local Da Vinci Science Center during their annual NanoDays event, which introduces elementary school students to nanotechnology. Faculty and students lead the youngsters in activities that get the idea of the nanoscale across in a way they can understand, like building human snowflakes, or building Lego towers while wearing oven mitts to show how hard it is to manipulate nanoscale objects with larger-scale tools.
Football season is liberally interpreted. “A lot of the faculty are from the UK, so we are also soccer people. Anytime there are big soccer events like the World Cup, we like to make an occasion of it in the department,” says Chan, who is herself from the UK.
To get the campus revved up for the game, the marching band traditionally brings their unique enthusiasm directly to the classroom, interrupting classes to play a few bars. Every Mountain Hawk touchdown is celebrated by shooting a cannon, a duty currently performed by an MSE student.
Of the 13 faculty in the department, those involved in ceramic and glass research include Chan, Martin Harmer, Himanshu Jain and Jeff Rickman. Harmer was the ACerS 2010 Sosman Lecturer.
Yale’s history is firmly planted in colonial times, but its vision is all about the future.
Yale College dates back to 1701 when it was established as a liberal arts college, “wherein Youth may be instructed in the Arts and Sciences [and] through the blessing of Almighty God may be fitted for Publick employment both in Church and Civil State.”
Today, the university maintains its liberal arts tradition, but has expanded over the years to offers students a wider range of academic options, including engineering. The department of mechanical engineering changed its name in 2010, adding materials science. At present, the department does not offer a degree in materials science; instead, students earn a mechanical engineering degree and can add a concentration in materials science.
The department’s name change, however, is an indicator of a much larger commitment to materials science that is being implemented in phases.
Since about 2002, the department has strategically expanded its faculty and hired several new professors, most with expertise in materials science. A recent $13 million NSF award for the Yale Center for Excellence for Materials Research and Innovation expands the materials footprint on the research side. And, the department is in the final stages of developing a curriculum that will lead to a BS in materials science and engineering. Director of undergraduate studies, Prof. Corey O’Hern, said he expects that “When we roll it out, it will strike a major chord”
Senior Bryn Pitt echoed O’Hern’s prediction in an email, paraphrasing his high school history teacher, “materials has to at least be your second favorite aspect of engineering because no matter what your favorite aspect is, it involves materials.”
The dual nature of the department was a perfect fit for senior Adam Verreault. Inspired by the idea that machines can improve the quality of life, he was drawn to alternative energy, knowing that society “would have to come up with smart ways to extract energy from other sources.” He says “I first became interested in materials science in while learning more about alternative energy, and in particular, solar energy technologies.”
Staying true to its origins, students are embedded in a liberal arts environment. O’Hern says students gain a “liberal arts education, and on top of that, significant engineering coursework.” Students tend to have very broad interests that expand beyond the technical. Junior Nick Demas says the liberal arts emphasis “allows me to look at a problem and its potential solution from many different perspectives, which is really how you get the best results.”
A tangible manifestation of the arts and sciences connection, the university is building an “idea incubator” on campus that will provide space and facilities for undergraduates to get their creative juices flowing. The incubator is sited at the intersection between the humanities and science sides of campus to emphasize the synergy between creativity, design, science, technology and art.
There is ample opportunity for hands-on experience, too. O’Hern explains that the department works to ensure that all undergrads have a research experience, especially during the summer. In his role, he helps students find faculty research mentors and helps guide students to fellowships and off-campus REUs.
Two student groups in the department give students a chance to exercise their engineering muscle. Relevant to materials science is the DROP Team, which participates in a NASA-sponsored gives student teams a chance to conduct research in microgravity on parabolic flights. Students interested in less dramatic flying may prefer to participate in the Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association, which conducts experiments on payloads in the upper atmosphere using, for example, weather-related balloons.
Outside the classroom, “engineering majors are able to have rich extra-curricular lives,” says Verrault. For example, he took a short-term mission trip to East Asia that gave him the chance to “engage with students with a totally different world-view … This experience helped me to identify my most essential beliefs and taught me how to share those beliefs in a culturally relevant way.”
Gabe Fernandez, a senior and Yale right guard, will be sending plenty of messages of his own to the Lehigh football team on Saturday. Life as a student-athlete, he says, is “extremely hard” but worth it. “I enjoy the feeling you get when you know you’ve given it your all and come out victorious at the end of the day with your teammates (friends).”
Laser manufacturing usually conjures images of high energy welding, rapid prototyping or precision cutting. A recent press release from Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology describes a laser manufacturing method that offers advantages for more pedestrian applications, too.
Mold making, for example, is tedious, time-consuming work involving hand polishing with grinding stones and polishing pastes. The old adage, “Time is money,” applies, and the finishing step of mold making is expensive. Also, according to the press release, “companies are struggling to find new recruits for such a challenging yet monotonous task.”
Fraunhofer ILT has developed a laser process that is capable of finishing simple or complex surfaces. The resulting surface finish is rougher than is achievable with hand polishing but, as researcher Edgar Willenborg says, “many applications - for example molds for glassmaking, forming and forging tools - a medium-quality surface is all that is needed.”
Hand polishing removes material layer-by-layer. The laser process differs in that materials is not removed, but is melted in thin layers of 20 to 100 micrometers. Because of surface tension, the liquid metal solidifies evenly. Willenborg also noted that exploiting surface tension means that component quality is not dependent on the machine’s rigidity, such as in a polishing process. Average roughnesses of 0.1 to 0.4 micrometers have been demonstrated.
Working with Maschinefabrik Arnold and S&F Systemtechnik, Fraunhofer ILT has built a 5-axis gantry system with a 3-axis laser scanner, which allows the workpiece to be accessed from all sides. The machine finishes surfaces up to ten times faster than is possible with hand polishing, and feed rates of more than one meter per second (even on small components) have been achieved. The system incorporates conventional CAD/CAM technologies that will be familiar to technicians. The press release says the process “is an excellent option for serial production and for polishing small batches.”
No mention is made of environmental advantages, but the absence of cutting fluids may be an added benefit.
The institute will be rolling out the laser polishing system at the 2011 EuroMold exhibit Nov. 29-Dec. 2 in Frankfurt, Germany.