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April 15, 2015 | Tom Ballard

PART 2: NSF win “a huge coup” for UT’s JIAMS

UT Knoxville(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second article in a three-part series exploring a successful university-private partnership that recently won a major National Science Foundation grant.)

By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

Winning a prestigious award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) is a significant accomplishment in higher education circles.

“This is a huge coup for our university, especially because it comes in the highly competitive realm of proposals worth more than one million dollars,” Kurt Sickafus, Head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Tennessee (UT), said in a news release last fall. “This award and the work accomplished with it has the potential to impact advanced materials research across the world.”

The grant that Sickafus was referencing is one that combined the research expertise of UT with the hardware design and manufacturing knowledge of Oak Ridge-based Nanomechanics, Inc.

The proposal was a joint undertaking of George Pharr, Director of the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials (JIAMS); Erik Herbert, a colleague in UT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering; and Warren Oliver, Co-Founder of Nanomechanics.

The official title of the proposal is “Development of and Broad-Based Materials Research with the Next Generation Nanomechanical Testing Laboratory.” What that means is that world-leading research is underway in this region to build a one-of-a-kind instrument to test nano-sized objects at temperatures up to 1,100 degrees Celsius.

“Our data will be key to the successful development of many next-generation nano-devices,” Pharr says. Users will include researchers in the public and private sectors and high tech companies like those making jet engines and nuclear power reactors.

“It is a five-year project,” Pharr notes. “The first two years are almost entirely at Nanomechanics. After two years, we will move the equipment to UT to test for three years to develop the instrument for research.”

In our interview, Pharr cited a material that is drawing a good deal of attention locally through the efforts long-time entrepreneur Vig Sherrill of General Graphene.

“We will be capable of testing the strength and mechanical behavior of graphene,” Pharr explained.

There was a good deal of interest on Sherrill’s part when we later connected the entrepreneur with Pharr.

NEXT: A view from Nanomechanics.

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