UTEP Houses Exclusive Femtosecond Laser Machine as Part of Multiple DOE Grants through Honeywell FM&T
Last Updated on February 03, 2021 at 12:00 AM
Originally published February 03, 2021
By UC Staff
The University of Texas at El Paso is now home to one of only three femtosecond laser machines in the world – a feat that significantly enhances the University’s advanced manufacturing research and is funded by six grants totaling more than $1 million backed by the U.S. Department of Energy through Honeywell Federal Manufacturing and Technologies.
The University of Texas at El Paso is now home to an exclusive femtosecond laser machine, one of only three in the world, as part of six new grants totaling more than $1 million funded by the U.S. Department of Energy through Honeywell Federal Manufacturing and Technologies. Video by UTEP Communications
Femtosecond laser machining uses high-power laser pulses and scans at femtosecond speeds – one quadrillionth of a second – to cut the surface of materials, allowing for the machining of micron and submicron features. This unique six-axis hexapod machine makes complex cuts with robotic precision.
UTEP faculty members Calvin M. Stewart, Ph.D., associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Yirong Lin, Ph.D., professor of mechanical engineering will lead three grants apiece as principal investigators. The awards will fund multiple projects to develop advanced manufacturing technology and create innovative opportunities for students.
“The UTEP College of Engineering is honored to house the femtosecond laser, and I am extremely proud of the research led by Dr. Stewart and Dr. Lin,” said Patricia Nava, Ph.D., dean of the College of Engineering. “They are pioneers in their field, and well equipped to maximize this cutting-edge technology to drive their research to new heights. I am pleased that they will include so many students in their work, helping to prepare a new generation of engineers with experience in this field, thus reinforcing the College of Engineering’s reputation of providing a dynamic and diverse workforce for the nation.”
The unique femtosecond laser micromachining system at UTEP was developed by startup 6-D Laser. The micromachining platform at UTEP integrates high-speed scanning with ultra-fast lasers and precision motion control to machine three-dimensional structures in materials traditionally difficult to process using conventional machining methods.
“The advantage of this type of system is that you can machine materials such as ceramics, glasses and crystals while controlling the angle of incidence of the laser beam. This allows us to create three-dimensional features in these difficult to process materials,” said Stephen Uhlhorn, Ph.D., chief technical officer of 6-D Laser. “Ultra-fast lasers have only recently matured to a point where they are now reliable enough for industrial material processing applications. One consequence of laser machining is that you end up with a side-wall taper when machining deep features, meaning if you were trying to drill a cylinder, it would end up as a cone. By dynamically controlling the angle of incidence of the laser beam, we can eliminate the side-wall taper angle.”
The use of the femtosecond laser machine in UTEP’s research lab is one of the first demonstrations of the technology tied to this unique model machine.
“This machine allows us to do amazing things, like put a pattern on the surface of an aircraft wing, a pattern kind of like fish scales,” Stewart said. “Nature is amazing! Fish scales reduce drag, allowing fish to swim efficiently through water. With this system we can put a similar — we call it biomimetic — pattern on the wing of an aircraft to improve performance and reduce fuel consumption. We can cut complex cooling channels into the thermal barrier coatings of hypersonic vehicles. We will be able to functionalize surfaces to adhere, absorb or repel water, which is critically important in hydrogen fuel cells. This is going to position UTEP even further in the field of advanced manufacturing and expand our efforts in aerospace, hypersonics and green-energy initiatives.”
The goal of UTEP researchers is to further develop the technology by conducting innovative materials science and engineering research while providing distinct training and skills to UTEP students, making them highly marketable recruits for top government agencies and industry leaders.
“We have at least 35 students with the Partnership for Research and Education Consortium in Ceramics and Polymers (PRE-CCAP) ready to work with the Kansas City National Security Campus on the femto-second laser machine project,” Lin said. “In the future, we are going to expand this technology to other material science and engineering research projects and initiatives. Not only graduate students will be doing this type of research, but undergraduates will be exposed to this cutting-edge technology as well.”
“The strong partnership that UTEP and the entire PRE-CCAP team has created with Kansas City National Security Campus truly showcases the success of the Minority Serving Institutes Partnership Program’s core mission to build a sustainable STEM pipeline between Minority Serving Institutions and the Nuclear Security Enterprise (NSE),” said David Canty, program manager at the National Nuclear Security Administration. “Not only has this partnership expanded the capacity of the university partners in NSE areas of interest, but it has also paved the way for students to join the NSE and make immediate and meaningful contributions to the mission.”
An additional DOE project involves Lin and Stewart developing high-temperature, lightweight polymer composite materials that can operate at temperatures higher than 500° Celsius. These new materials will be useful for hypersonics, high-speed airplanes or materials created for aerospace functions.
The two mechanical engineering professors will also be collaborating to develop 3D-printed materials with sophisticated sensors for smart materials and intelligent systems that can withstand elements of harsh external environments such as temperature and pressure to passively carry mechanical loading and easily repair system damage.
Additionally, Stewart has a green-energy project to design, build and test fully 3D-printed hydrogen fuel cells for extreme environments with testing conducted at Los Alamos National laboratory.
“Through this anchor equipment we are going to build a firm relationship and strengthen our collaboration with the DOE enterprises. Students will highly benefit from these projects through exposure to research in our labs and participating in internships with Honeywell that can lead to full-time employment,” Lin said. “This is just getting started. There are a lot of exciting things in the near future enabled by this exclusive equipment.”