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UW Materials Science Researcher Meets with Lawmakers

July 9, 2018
Two men view diagrams on large TV display
Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor Dilpuneet Aidhy (center) and Gaurav Arora discuss microstructure evolution in irradiation-induced high entropy alloys in UW's 3D Visualization Center.

Dilpuneet Aidhy has seen the statistics. The United States is in danger of falling behind in areas of science and technology and could soon be surpassed by other countries. He wants to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Aidhy, an assistant professor in mechanical engineering at the University of Wyoming, is a materials science researcher. He studies materials at the nano and atomic level to examine how they behave under different circumstances. In his work at UW, he examines new alloys for structural applications and fuel cells to enhance capacity through improved oxygen conductivity at material interfaces.

Recently, he took a trip to the nation’s capital to meet with lawmakers and provide perspective as to why research funding for science research and education is so important. As part of a trip organized by the Materials Research Society, faculty members from a variety of institutions visited Washington, D.C. Aidhy and the members of his travel group, which featured faculty from South Dakota School of Mines and Missouri Science and Technology University, met with the respective representatives from their home states. The trip included a visit with Wyoming’s Congressional delegation, including Rep. Liz Cheney and Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso.

“We informed them about the impact of funding in materials science,” Aidhy says. “We are potentially looking at an innovation deficit in the next decade. Other countries are heavily investing in education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and encouraging their young citizens to study those fields. For example, from 2012 data, nearly 44 percent of undergraduate degrees awarded in China were in science and engineering fields, compared to just 17 percent in the U.S. Investments like these position other countries to be on the frontier of solving next-generation problems.”

Materials science is a field that includes physics, chemistry, biomedical science, and mechanical engineering. Aidhy says “materials are the backbone of a developed economy,” which includes things like precision equipment for national defense and medical treatment materials available to the general public. Traditionally, agencies such as the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy, Department of Defense and NASA fund research in areas critical to STEM. Any potential reduction to the budgets of these agencies represent a threat to continued innovation, Aidhy says.

“Potential cuts to funding is alarming, but the bigger worry is if you’re not going to invest in the technology such as the upcoming quantum computing, we may end up purchasing this technology from other countries because we wouldn’t have developed it here,” he adds. “That’s not good for the national security. Part of the reason why the U.S. is currently a superpower is because of the technologies that we create here.”

The trip also served as a way to thank lawmakers for their support for researching funding in recent years. It’s a crucial time for funding in research and education, because despite slight budgetary increase this year, the nation could be in a precarious position if the funding is not sustained at current levels.

“We thanked them because they understood why funding science and technology is important,” Aidhy says. “In a way, our intent was to thank them for this year’s improved funding, despite some forecasts of future cuts, and also to keep them informed on the innovation deficit issue the country may face in the next five years.”

Aidhy also spoke to the Wyoming delegation about topics like rare-earth mineral mining in the state and bolstering Wyoming’s workforce entrepreneurship and talent retention.

“I especially want to thank our representatives,” he says. “They really took time out to meet with us and listen and get to know us. I was the only one from the group who was able to meet with my entire state delegation. That shows the commitment of Wyoming’s representatives to the research and cause.”

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