Four MSE seniors won ASM International’s 2017 Undergraduate Design Competition for their senior design project, “Tuning Mechanical Properties of Aerogels from Poly (ether ether Ketone).” Sponsored by the ASM Materials Education Foundation, this national competition was launched in 2007 to “encourage and strengthen design curricula in materials science engineering departments.”
The idea for the project stemmed from research performed by Robert Moore, a professor in the chemistry department and the Macromolecules Innovation Institute. That research resulted in the discovery that the polymer, poly (ether ether ketone) or PEEK, was capable of forming high surface area aerogels that are hydrophobic and oleophilic (they shed water and soak up oil), characteristics that make them an excellent material for use in cleaning up oil spills in the ocean and other bodies of water.
Moore served as the advisor for the design team, assisted by his graduate student, Samantha Talley. He put his team to work very early in the year creating and analyzing aerogel samples as they independently explored the impact of four key processing variables. According to Talley, the team created over 2,000 samples within the first six months.
Results of their work lead to publication in Polymer in May 2017 of “Mechanically Robust and Superhydrophobic Aerogels of Poly(Ether Ether Ketone),” co-authored by Moore, Talley, and the four senior design team members, Christian AndersonSchoepe, Christopher Berger, Kaitlyn Leary, and Samuel Snyder.
The entire team, including Moore and Talley, traveled to Pittsburgh in October to receive the award, which was presented at a luncheon held during the MS&T ’17 conference. The team received $2000 plus travel assistance to attend the conference. In addition, Virginia Tech’s materials science and engineering department received monetary support for future design teams.