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Published April 14, 2020
Four University of Wyoming faculty members were selected to participate in the Center for Advanced Energy Studies’ (CAES) third annual Summer Visiting Faculty Program at Idaho National Laboratory (INL).
UW faculty members selected and their areas of research during the program are: Dilpuneet Singh Aidhy, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, nuclear energy; Mike Borowczak, an assistant professor of computer science, cybersecurity; Nga Nguyen, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, innovative energy systems; and Xiang Zhang, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, advanced manufacturing.
CAES is a research, education and innovation consortium consisting of INL and the four public research universities of Idaho and Wyoming: Boise State University, Idaho State University, the University of Idaho and UW. Students and researchers perform collaborative research at locations at all five institutions and at the 55,000-square-foot CAES building in Idaho Falls.
This collaborative program was created in 2018 to promote one-on-one partnerships and collaboration between university faculty and researchers at INL to create unified research teams to address critical issues in energy-related science and engineering. Collaborations are in seven focus areas: nuclear energy; energy-water nexus; cybersecurity; advanced manufacturing; innovative energy systems; energy policy; and computing, data and visualization.
The annual program begins in May, when university faculty spend a week in residence at INL to brainstorm ideas with their INL counterparts and learn about capabilities. The faculty then return home and work remotely, but collaboratively, for two months on proposal writing.
Plans are underway this year to hold the kickoff week online rather than in person due to the novel coronavirus.
“While I have several open research contracts with INL, this particular collaboration is focused on investigating the security implications of using existing programs and tool chains for generating machine learning models,” Borowczak says. “Our focus for the summer is developing a larger collaborative proposal to build out additional research within this domain. Ultimately, we want to be able to answer questions about how the 'security properties' of one machine learning model compare to another.”
Zhang says his current research focuses on multiphysics and multiscale modeling of high-performance materials -- including metals and composites -- and advanced manufacturing processes. He adds this works in concert toward his long-term goal of establishing the microstructure-processing-performance relationship for material design and manufacturing through the development of advanced computation models and active interactions with experiments.
“I am currently investigating a novel composite manufacturing process -- called frontal polymerization using coupled thermo-chemo-mechanical modeling -- to understand and design this manufacturing process to improve and broaden its application,” Zhang says. “I also am developing new research programs to develop computational models to predict the microstructure evolution during metal additive manufacturing and subsequent mechanical performance.”
As a new faculty member at UW, Nguyen says the CAES program gives her a unique chance to set up a connection between her research group and INL for her focus on innovative energy systems. She points to INL’s facilities in power systems as having the ability to develop and implement her team’s theoretical research into industrial applications.
“Our group would like to develop a fast-screening tool to detect the instability of voltage in a large power system. This tool will use stochastic techniques instead of current traditional numerical methods,” Nguyen says. “The new methods will improve the speed of remedial actions in case of system contingencies and prevent the system from a blackout.”
Aidhy says his program will help develop a key collaboration with a new INL initiative called the Nuclear Materials Discovery and Quantification Initiative.
“This initiative is focused on enabling rapid discovery and qualification of nuclear materials, where machine learning and data science are expected to play an anchoring role in the design and discovery of new materials,” Aidhy says.
The computational program is centered on developing a fundamental understanding of materials from electronic structure to microstructure levels. The investigative tools include density functional theory, molecular dynamics simulations and machine learning, he says. An understanding of mechanical properties of new high-entropy alloys -- alloys that are formed by mixing equal or relatively large proportions of five or more elements -- will be developed.
The CAES program allows faculty members to learn about the inner workings of a national laboratory, its capabilities and expertise, and to build lasting networks. Additionally, it gives INL researchers the opportunity to build new academic connections, access diversified funding sources and connect with students supporting the faculty member. Students are involved throughout the process, which provides training for a new generation of energy-related scientists and engineers. This also provides faculty-researcher connections that create a diverse pipeline for students to transition from university to employment at the national laboratory.
“I am a strong proponent of collaboration making us stronger and more effective,” Borowczak says. “Being selected for this CAES Summer Visiting Faculty Program enables me to extend my collaborative network to help support University of Wyoming students, researchers and faculty to, in the long term, bring and develop Wyoming talent within the realm of cybersecurity.”