Tough challenges are no match for UD innovation. Amazing "Liquid Armor" protects the wearer against bullets, blades and bombs. Light, flexible solar cells are being designed to replace the heavy batteries in soldiers' packs. And new magnets in development may wind up turning on a new U.S. industry.
Superhero technology flexes its muscles to help save lives
It's enough to make a superhero jealous.
Soft body armor treated with shear thickening fluid (STF), a novel technology invented by University of Delaware and U.S. Army Research Laboratory scientists, protects against practically any weapon the forces of evil can throw at it. It's bullet-resistant, stab-resistant, and can even protect the wearer from the shrapnel of detonated bombs.
Trademarked as Liquid Armor, the UD innovation is light and flexible —until hit by an object or shaken forcefully. Under this mechanical stress or "shear," the tiny particles of silica and polymers suspended in STF harden instantly, forming a protective shield. The hardening process occurs in milliseconds, and then the body armor becomes flexible again.
"The multi-threat protection is of particular value," says Norman Wagner, the Alvin B. and Julia O. Stiles Professor of Chemical Engineering and chairman of the Department of Chemical Engineering at UD. Wagner invented the STF technology in collaboration with Eric Wetzel, a scientist at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory.
"For first responders, you get not only ballistic protection with Liquid Armor, but you also gain this additional stab and puncture protection," Wagner notes. "And the material can do all of this while increasing the vest's wearability."
The police officer responding to a robbery, the prison guard making rounds, and the air marshal ever-vigilant on a domestic flight all come to mind as potential beneficiaries of the technology. And Wagner foresees many others someday, including doctors and nurses in the operating room, athletes in high-contact, concussion-prone sports, soldiers on the battlefield, even astronauts suiting up for a spacewalk.
Wagner is collaborating with the University's Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships (OEIP), and with Barrday, UD's preferred partner on STF, to develop new applications and business opportunities.
"OEIP has been a fantastic partner — they've greatly supported these exciting development opportunities," Wagner says.
"One of the key features of this technology is that it can be customized based upon the threat and desired performance characteristics," notes Bradley Yops, interim director of the Technology Transfer Center within OEIP. "For example, you can optimize the STF formulation as well as the substrate fabric depending upon the level and type of protection desired, whether projectile resistance, stab or puncture resistance, or a combination of both."
Barrday, a specialty textile manufacturer with offices in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, and Charlotte, North Carolina, makes textiles from aramid (aromatic polyamide) fibers, a class of strong synthetic materials that includes DuPont's Kevlar and Teijin Aramid's Twaron, as well as other fabrics that might comprise the base material for Liquid Armor. Barrday has set up manufacturing facilities to make the Liquid Armor for customers who will then take the material and transform it into products.
"Barrday has invested the time to learn what we do in the lab and to expand that process to a production scale. They are generating very high-quality Liquid Armor, which is critical in order for these materials to be certified as ballistic- and puncture-proof," Wagner says.
It's not easy working with STF, Wagner points out, because the material can rapidly become more viscous when subjected to mechanical stress, with the potential to damage processing equipment.
However, working out those kinks is worth it, Wagner points out, because Liquid Armor has a number of uniquely superior properties compared to existing body armor materials. It is thin and flexible, making it ideal for protecting the extremities — the arms and legs, Wagner says.
"We think there are a lot of opportunities to improve body armor, to create lighter, thinner, more wearable clothing while keeping the antiballistic strength intact. In making our material, we add STF to Kevlar or other fabric, but we need fewer layers to achieve the same result," he notes. "What we have to offer in Liquid Armor is a material that becomes a new tool in the toolkit of the armor designer."
Novel applications in development
Wagner's research lab resembles a scene from the movie Psycho when it comes to testing his favorite invention. The STF and fabrics treated with it are subjected to repeated knife stabs, not to mention hammering and dropped balls of varying weights and forces.
His research team is exploring the fundamental characteristics of STF using, among other tools, sophisticated rheometers that measure the flow of the STF in response to applied forces. Postdoctoral researcher Jeremy Fowler, recent doctoral graduate Dennis Kalman and doctoral student Kate Gurnon, and undergraduate students Paul Nenno, Tony Pallanta and Anne Golamatis work alongside textile engineer Kathy Zetune, formerly with ILC Dover, and research scientist Rich Dombrowski.
"What's cool is that we have an inter-disciplinary team that includes a textile engineer working with scientists, a postdoc, and graduate and undergraduate students in chemical engineering all involved in basic science technology development. Partnered with interested companies, we have formed a great product development team," Wagner notes.
Currently, Wagner's colleague Jack Gillespie, director of the Center for Composite Materials (see p. 8), and doctoral student Kate Gurnon are working to develop novel materials that could help increase the blast resistance of armored personnel carriers by keying on STF's unique combination of strength and damping ability.
The same principle is being explored in sports gear, from football helmets to hockey shin guards and shock-absorbent skis.
"Concussions are serious health issues," Wagner notes. "Shear thickening fluid has the potential to give a bit and absorb the shock waves so they don't damage the brain."
Currently, Wagner and his team are advising two design groups composed of UD seniors working on this promising usage.
Besides these down-to-earth applications, Wagner and his team also have a proposal under review by NASA for creating the next generation of spacesuits.
"Shear thickening fluid is not an easy technology to do," Wagner says. "It's like Edison showed us, it's easy to make a filament that glows, but harder to make the light bulb. However, it's an exciting technology to work with, and engineers like to tinker and invent things," he notes with a smile. "Good things will come out of it — it's just a matter of time and effort."
Liquid Armor is subject to a number of issued and pending domestic and international patent applications. For more information about Liquid Armor, contact Denise Bierlein, licensing analyst in UD's Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Tracey Bryant
Putting it to the test
Fabric treated with shear thickening fluid (STF) undergoes a series of laboratory tests at the University of Delaware, including stabbings with an ice pick to assess puncture resistance. At right, the photos in the lefthand column show the puncture made in Kevlar. The righthand column shows Kevlar fabric treated with STF. It is fully intact, with no punctures.
Norman Wagner, chairman of UD's Department of Chemical Engineering, and Eric Wetzel from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory invented shear thickening fluid. Today, Wagner's lab hums with activity, as he and his team explore the novel material's properties and potential applications.
Wagner has a team of nine working on shear thickening fluid, among them, from left, doctoral student Kate Gurnon, research scientist Rich Dombrowski, and postdoctoral researchers Eric Yearley and Jeremy Fowler.
Lowering the hammer
As shown in these time-lapse photos, bubbles of viscous shear thickening fluid remain in liquid form until subjected to force. With the strike of a hammer, the bubble at right transforms from a liquid into a solid upon impact.
When an Army unit deploys in Afghanistan, the first supply planes carry cargo that is critical to powering communications operations in the field: batteries.
Some soldiers will carry up to 35 pounds of batteries for a three-day mission, according to the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. That's in addition to body armor, weapons, ammunition, rations and other equipment.
The Institute of Energy Conversion (IEC) at the University of Delaware is working with industry to help lighten the soldier's load by replacing those batteries with lightweight, yet powerful solar cells.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the independent research branch of the U.S. Department of Defense, recently funded four projects nationally through its Low-Cost Lightweight Portable Photovoltaics (PoP) program. UD's IEC is the sole academic institution to be involved in two of the efforts — one led by Ascent Solar Technologies Inc., based in Thornton, Colo.; the other by SiOnyx Inc. in Beverly, Mass.
"The U.S. Army is looking for much higher-efficiency solar cells that are very lightweight, flexible and durable — able to withstand bullet holes and other extreme battlefield conditions," says Bill Shafarman, a scientist at IEC and associate professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at UD.
The UD institute's role in the projects is to make the technology more efficient — to increase the percentage of energy in sunlight converted to electricity in thin-film solar cells — and to explore new manufacturing approaches.
In their project with Ascent Solar Technologies, Shafarman and IEC research associate Greg Hanket are working to boost the conversion efficiency in lightweight copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS) solar cells from 13 percent to 20 percent by replacing some of the copper in the semiconductor with silver. Their previous work has shown that this substitution can help make a higher quality material for the solar cells.
"This replacement doesn't need to be expensive," Shafarman notes, pointing out that the semiconductor layer has a thickness of only 1 to 2 microns. A typical human hair, in comparison, is 50 microns thick.
In a related project with SiOnyx, IEC research scientist Steve Hegedus and his team are examining substrates other than the traditional plastic for the solar cells.
"The significance of the Low-Cost Lightweight Portable Photovoltaics program is that it will take thin-film, flexible copper-indium-selenide based solar cells to the next level of performance in order to meet DARPA's requirements and will accelerate the implementation of thin-film flexible solar cells to commercial and residential markets," says IEC‚ÄàDirector Robert Birkmire.
IEC was founded in 1972 and designated in 1992 as a University Center of Excellence for Photovoltaic Research and Education by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National RenewableEnergy Laboratory. The center collaborates with government agencies, industries and other universities around the world.
IEC pioneered the development of flexible solar cells in the early 1980s and was the first to show continuous deposition of thin-film solar cells. The UD institute's discoveries today are in use by a broad range of solar cell manufacturers. — Tracey Bryant
Bill Shafarman is holding a mini-power plant — a thin, flexible sheet of solar cells capable of converting sunlight into electricity. UD's Institute of Energy Conversion is working to help create lightweight, yet robust and powerful solar cells as a substitute for the many pounds of batteries soldiers must carry in the field for communications operations.
An "elegant solution" to a decades-old problem in aviation safety may soon take flight, thanks to a research team in the University of Delaware's Department of Mathematical Sciences.
The pilot's window, or canopy, on U.S. Air Force jets is replaced every few months because the specialized plastic degrades under ultraviolet light, and there is no non-destructive method for testing it.
"If the window breaks where the pilot sits, the whole airplane falls down," says David Colton, Unidel Professor of Mathematical Sciences. "We've developed a mathematical method to determine if these materials have the requisite strength or not."
If the method is successful, the researchers envision someday having a sensor that can sweep across an airplane canopy and indicate blue, for example, if the window is structurally safe, or red if it's not.
The novel approach, created by Colton and colleagues Fioralba Cakoni and Peter Monk, is based on a new mathematical theory of transmission eigenvalues, which they compare to the tones associated with the different strings of a violin.
"You send in an electromagnetic wave that excites the window, and you can measure the vibrations that come back in certain tones or frequencies," Colton explains.
Nobody knew that transmission eigenvalues even existed until the UD mathematicians discovered them in 1988 while doing research on inverse scattering problems, in which sound waves, as one example, are used to determine an object's characteristics by measuring data from the echoes.
They first thought of applying their new method to the problem of locating cavities in tree trunks and then began pondering other possibilities.
With funding support from the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), the UD team is now collaborating with researchers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio to put the theory into practice.
A test setup is being developed, consisting of a cylinder fabricated from composite material similar to the kind used for airplane canopies, and surrounded by antennas. The cylinder will be subjected to electromagnetic radiation of various frequencies, and the return vibrations will be measured.
"The mathematical theory is very exciting for us, but as applied mathematicians, we also are thrilled that the research may have practical applications," notes Cakoni. She is the lead author, with Colton and Monk, on "The Linear Sampling Method in Inverse Electromagnetic Scattering" published in February 2011 by the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences (CBMS) and the National Science Foundation.
So although Colton jokes that the jar labeled "elegant solutions" on his bookcase is empty, if the UD method works, it would represent a tremendous scientific advance in detecting flaws in materials such as airplane canopies, and perhaps, if the mathematical theory is extended to include biological tissue, even open a new window into medical imaging.
"That's a twinkle in my eye," Colton says. — Tracey Bryant
UD researchers Fioralba Cakoni and David Colton hope their mathematical theory will take flight in a research collaboration with the U.S. Air Force.
What do ants and slime mold (cool!) have in common? They're inspiring new wireless communications networks being developed by UD scientists. . . .
Lou Rossi is a mathematician, not a biologist, but he can wow you with his knowledge of ants.
Did you know that there are over 10,000 species of ants?
Or that these little insects add up to 15‚Äì20 percent of the total terrestrial biomass — all the living stuff — on Earth?
"Although ants are nearly blind, they are very successful at finding food," says Rossi, who is an associate professor in UD's Department of Mathematical Sciences. "You miss a few crumbs on the countertop, and you find ants there the next morning. How do they do that? Ants are computing machines," he says. "They do spatial computing, leaving chemical markers — pheromones — on the ground to communicate information to other ants."
Taking their inspiration from the social behavior of ants, Rossi and Chien-Chung Shen, associate professor in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences, are developing the complex mathematical algorithms required to operate a secure, wireless communications network for soldiers in the battlefield.
The initial research was funded by the National Science Foundation. The current effort is supported by a U.S. Army Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant and involves an industry collaborator, Scalable Network Technologies Inc., based in Los Angeles.
The mobile ad hoc network (MANET) that Shen and Rossi are developing is very different from cell phone networks that rely on cell towers as base stations for message transmission and reception. Such towers would be easy targets in the battlefield. But setting up a MANET has its own set of complicated challenges.
"Every node, or device, in a mobile ad hoc network has to relay messages to other nodes, and most messages will be relayed over multiple hops," Shen says. "If you think of a group of soldiers in a battlefield, not all of them are in range, so they have to rely on other soldiers to route messages to them. Every node has to be a router, and all the nodes are moving. You know who you want to send a message to, but you don't know where they are."
Using ant behavior as their model, Shen and Rossi are developing the networking architecture and networking protocols, or "language," that will enable communication between the MANET nodes.
"Ants efficiently self-organize a large number of unreliable and dynamically changing components for various functions, adapting to the failure of individual ants, to changing conditions and to the lack of explicit central coordination, which makes them an ideal model," Rossi says.
"To solve problems that are inherently complex, we need to look at a system that adapts to uncertainty," Shen points out. "Biological systems designed over billions of years are optimized, so presumably they are more adaptive. That's a driving motivation of our work."
The researchers are generating mathematical algorithms for sending packets of data, passing messages to other nodes, keeping messages, and incorporating markers to maintain information to be routed to other nodes.
Currently in the second of three phases of their SBIR grant, the researchers will put their networking protocols to the test this summer in real-time video demonstrations.
"Our digital ants are already very good at finding the shortest path between nodes, which real ants do very well," Rossi notes.
Ironically, Rossi and Shen met at a presentation at UD on bio-inspired technologies given by a visiting Princeton researcher several years ago. Now Rossi and Shen's collaboration represents one of a small number of research teams working in this novel field in the United States. For example, Harvard scientists are studying bumblebee behavior.
However, the UD team is just as captivated by slime mold and by schools of fish, as they are by ants.
True slime mold, known scientifically as Physarum plasmodium, is a flat, single-celled, amoeba-like organism that can grow to roughly the size of a hand. In response to the chemical cues from nutrients in its environment, slime mold will assemble a complex network of tubes that serves as a resource distribution network for nutrients. This simple creature generates near-optimal networks, connecting multiple food sources throughout the cell body.
"Often, the tubes of a slime mold will be arranged in a geometry that balances efficiency — keeping the total tube length short — and robustness, having multiple paths in case a tube is severed," Rossi says.
The problems faced by slime molds are similar to those that exist in wireless sensor and actor networks (WSANs), which, for example, guide battlefield robots that detect and mark mines.
And in a new National Science Foundation project, the researchers are working to understand swarming by bees and schooling by fish. How many need to be leaders in order to keep the swarm together? With that answer and the anticipated decrease in the cost of robotics in the decades ahead, Rossi foresees the capability to deploy dozens of underwater robots to quickly find the boundaries of the contaminant plume for a disaster like the BP oil spill.
"It would be the ultimate swim team," Rossi says.
— Tracey Bryant
Did you know
Autonomous underwater vehicles swim untethered through the ocean collecting data in places scientists could never go themselves. Thanks to University of Dela-ware researchers, these tools of the marine studies trade are being upgraded and adapted in new ways.
A UD technology is improving the communications abilities of the torpedo-shaped devices. It lets scientists transmit data back and forth with the AUV as needed, much as if they were using a dial-up Internet connection. Until now, scientists were limited to waiting until an AUV returned from a mission in order to retrieve data or to send the vehicle off in a new direction.
The advancement opens the potential for real-time data streaming. "We hope this leads to technology that lets AUVs communicate even faster so that scientists and AUVs can communicate continuously," said Aijun Song, assistant professor of physical ocean science and engineering (POSE) and a collaborator on the project.
The technology's creation involved the development of hardware and instrumentation, as well as software to decode communication signals under water. It is based on cell phone technology, but with one major difference: Instead of relying on radio waves moving through the atmosphere, it uses sound waves moving through the water.
"The radio waves that are used in the atmosphere can't be used in the ocean because they don't penetrate the water," said project leader Mohsen Badiey, professor and director of UD's POSE Program.
Members of the research team are working through UD's Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships to patent two inventions based on the project, which is funded in part by the U.S. Navy through Office of Naval Research and Defense University Research Instrumentation Program grants.
First to benefit from this new technology will be the users of UD's AUV, which is serving as the test vehicle for the project. Known as Dora (short for Delaware Oceanographic Research Autono-mous underwater vehicle), the robot has helped study everything from coral reefs off the Caribbean island of Bonaire, to a Byzantine shipwreck in the Black Sea, to underwater habitats in Delaware Bay.
And Dora continues to grow her resume. Working with partners Weston Solutions Inc. and Geometrics Inc., in November 2010 UD received a $1 million grant from the Department of Defense Environmental Security Technology Certification Program to integrate the AUV with instrumentation expected to facilitate underwater munitions and explosives detection.
"This project brings the age of robotics into unexploded munitions detection to reduce the threats to humans and to make detection more efficient," said Art Trembanis, assistant professor of geological science and Dora's chief operator.
The AUV will be outfitted with a total field magnetometer, which locates iron-containing objects such as bombs, shells and rockets. Such objects were used or discarded in coastal and ocean waters, swamps, rivers and lakes around the world during military combat, training and weapons testing.
Today those unexploded munitions, which may still detonate despite their age, pose a physical threat to everyone from contractors clearing underwater routes for telecommunications, to dredge operators, and fishermen bringing in their nets. The materials also threaten the environment as they deteriorate and leach toxic chemicals.
Integrating the magnetometer with the AUV is expected to provide cost savings over current approaches by requiring less manpower for operation and reducing or eliminating the need for support from a large ship. Other expected benefits include improved safety, portability, maneuverability and the ability to operate multiple sensing systems simultaneously. — Elizabeth Boyle
College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment faculty Mohsen Badiey, right, and Aijun Song, and doctoral student Justin Eickmeier, front, at work on UD's autonomous underwater vehicle.
UD researchers unveil technology to reliably detect IEDs
According to U.S. military statistics, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are the number-one killer in the Middle East, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are the largest cause of casualties to U.S. troops and NATO forces combined.
"It's a huge issue. We believe IEDs are going to impact all types of warfare scenarios because they are easy to make, hard to detect and tremendously destructive because you never know where they will turn up," says Dennis Prather, Alumni Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Delaware.
To help overcome this problem, Prather and his research team have developed a highly sensitive, low-cost application for accurately detecting and identifying IEDs using millimeter waves (MMWs). The approach involves using high-frequency photonic modulators, which convert millimeter waves, found in the electromagnetic spectrum between infrared and microwaves, into an optical signal that can be more easily imaged.
"Imaging in the millimeter wave spectrum offers many of the advantages common to infrared imaging, but allows for the ability to see through obscurants, such as blowing sand, fog, dust, smoke and light rain. It also offers the ability to see through certain types of materials, like outer garments, fiberglass, drywall and others," Prather notes.
Prather has extensive experience in the development and application of photonic devices and their integration into systems for imaging, communications and photonic applications. He is also a commander in the U.S. Naval Reserves and the United States representative on the NATO Technical Group for High-Performance Millimeter Wave Imaging.
Over the past few decades, imaging in the infrared spectrum has allowed us to see through the darkness or "in the absence of light" because objects at non-zero Kelvin give off radiation (think hot, glowing coals in a fireplace).
By contrast, Prather's system uses passive radiation and requires just 400 watts to operate, about the same energy needed to run a high-end personal computer. It does not illuminate objects; rather it looks for radiation given off from systems that emit heat, using the sky temperature as a reference.
This means that while humans see blue sky during the day and black sky at night, millimeter waves always see the absence of millimeter wave radiation, or black. As luck would have it, anything metal on earth also reflects millimeter waves. Since many IEDs are metallic in nature, Prather's device uses millimeter waves to "see" through the sand and other environmental conditions and detect IEDs buried underground.
"This system requires much less power than typical active systems like infrared, and because it never has to illuminate anything, it is entirely covert — a huge advantage for the military," he says.
No false positives
Another benefit of millimeter waves is that they are a great discriminator of false alarms because they use the sky temperature, not radiation, to visualize targets. While IEDs typically look "hot" under infrared, so do rocks and mounds of sand and dirt. When viewed with millimeter waves, only IEDs are visualized.
"You don't see this in optics or infrared at all, which change based on the environmental conditions, making this wavelength a good tool for tracking and discerning IEDs," says Prather. "The tradeoff, however, is that you don't get the same high resolution as in the visible or infrared spectrum, so in that regard, it is not the most optimal solution for target acquisition."
When imaging conditions hinder the ability to see in visible and infrared, so- called VIS-IR blind, these technologies lose sight of what they are tracking. The millimeter wave system is never blind, making it advantageous when used in combination with other types of technology.
"It's called image fusion — where you take visible, infrared and millimeter waves and put them together to create a high-quality, information-based image in all conditions," Prather says. "We're just beginning to think about applications on that level."
Funded through grants from the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR), the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Army Research Laboratory, Prather's millimeter wave system is now being tested in laboratory scenarios. The current system measures 60 cm x 60 cm x 20 cm and weighs 27.6 pounds. According to Prather, it needs to be smaller — by about 15 cm in depth.
"In the military, SWaP ‚Äì size, weight and power ‚Äì is the mantra," explains Prather. "That's what we're working on now, making it small enough to be mounted to a Humvee or secured to an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)."
Prather is also working with partners including Lockheed Martin, Heico, Systems Integration Organization and Phase Sensitive Innovations to investigate scalability and manufacturing scenarios that would help transition the technology to industry. — Karen B. Roberts
Dennis Prather (left), and Yao Peng in the millimeter wave photonics laboratory in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, where they have invented the world's first millimeter wave photonic detection module that spans through 200 GHz.
The first-ever demonstration of a photonic millimeter wave imaging system capable of seeing through obscurants and detecting IEDs.
Guang Gao and a team of researchers at the University of Delaware are poised to break new ground in the supercomputing landscape. Again.
Gao, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is leading research to improve the speed, efficiency and computational capacity of our nation's extreme-scale supercomputer systems.
The effort is part of a research and development initiative by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to create an innovative, revolutionary new generation of computing systems under the agency's recently announced Ubiquitous High Performance Computing (UHPC) program. Gao and the University of Delaware are members of the Intel Corporation UHPC team.
According to DARPA, which is the research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense, advanced computing is critically important to national security. The UHPC program plans to advance radically new extreme-scale computer architectures and programming models that deliver 100 to 1,000 times more performance, and that are easier to program than current systems. Prototype UHPC systems are expected to be complete by 2018.
Gao and his team at the Computer Architecture and Parallel Systems Laboratory in the UD Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, are part of the Intel-led UHPC team focused on prototyping revolutionary hardware and software technologies for extreme-scale computing systems.
The UD team is leading the fundamental computer system research on execution models and its impact on system software design. They will work in close collaboration with other principal members of the Intel team from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of California at San Diego, Reservoir Labs Inc., and E.T. International Inc. (ETI).
"This is a very important event for the nation. This project will develop a supercomputer that puts the United States ahead of our competitors. But with that comes a lot of responsibility," says Gao, an expert in computer architecture and parallel systems.
Parallel computing is an important technology employed by supercomputer architectures to use multiple processors (CPUs) to speed up the execution of application programs. Computing performance increases historically have been driven by Moore's Law, which states that "the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles every two years." Current models have limitations, however, and achieving projected performance gains requires new thinking.
The UHPC program recognizes that "a new model of computation or an execution model must be developed that enables the programmer to perceive the system as a unified and naturally parallel computer system, not as a collection of microprocessors and an interconnection network."
"Professor Gao's involvement in the DARPA Ubiquitous High Performance Computing project demonstrates his leadership in the extreme computing realm. The outstanding collaborative team comprised of Intel and leading universities is certain to ensure that the project outcomes significantly impact the future of high performance computing for many years," says Kenneth Barner, chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
A consummate researcher and educator, Gao and his group's pioneering work on novel computer architecture models and system software, including the compilers that optimize applications for efficient execution, serves as the basis for high-performance parallel supercomputers and is considered to be at the pinnacle in processing capacity, particularly in speed of calculation.
He has actively participated in numerous research programs in parallel computing architecture and software sponsored by the National Science Foundation, DARPA, the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and other U.S. and Canadian government agencies and private organizations.
ETI, founded by Gao and his associates as a UD start-up, is a computer technology and software company. ETI specializes in developing and deploying system software solutions and tools for advanced computing architectures and platforms based on new multi-core chip technology. ETI's system software explores large-scale many-core chip technology, with 160 processing cores on a single chip designed by IBM, to power the world's most influential supercomputers.
"We have received tremendous support from our department, college and university administration. Such support brings tremendous inspiration and encouragement to the members of the team in their pursuit of excellence," says Gao. — Karen B. Roberts
Guang Gao, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, at work in his office at UD.
Since signing a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) in January 2010, the University of Delaware and the U.S. Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) have joined forces for research and development opportunities, as well as graduate education, professional development and employment or internship opportunities for the UD community.
David Weir, director of the UD Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships, notes that workforce development is a high priority for the Army, and it is a natural fit to collaborate with UD, as the University is the closest Category I Research University to APG.
The College of Engineering, which already has a strong commitment to graduate education through teaching and research, is an active partner in developing educational programming to meet APG's growing professional development needs.
Last spring, the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) began supplementing on-campus and distance learning offerings with courses taught on-base to make it easier for APG employees to continue their education.
The first course — advanced engineering electromagnetics — attracted six students, including Janeen Winne, an APG engineer supporting the Army Evaluation Center in non-ballistic survivability.
"Despite recently completing a master's in systems engineering elsewhere, I feel that broadening my technical base is very important," says Winne.
"UD's comprehensive program offers classes I have not seen at other universities," Winne notes, "and the knowledge I've gained helps me ensure that systems that are reaching soldiers will survive the complex environments that they face."
Current UD-APG on-base offerings in antenna theory and design and in digital signal processing have seen a three-fold increase in enrollment, with nearly 20 APG employees registered for the 2011 spring semester.
"Local course offerings greatly ease my travel burden and reduce my time away from work," explains Joseph Deroba, an APG electrical engineer and UD alumnus currently pursuing a doctorate in electrical engineering at UD. "Taking courses with my peers, many of whom have similar experience levels and responsibilities, is also a benefit."
Deroba also says having the knowledge to accurately design and model the performance of systems before they are mass produced greatly decreases risks and overall costs to the government.
In addition, new degrees such as the recently added master of science in software engineering, designed at APG's request by faculty from ECE and the Department of Computer and Information Sciences, position students and professionals to meet future job challenges with advanced innovation and problem-solving skills.
"We look forward to offering additional courses and developing mutually beneficial partnerships with increasing numbers of APG employees as they transition completely from the Army's Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey, site," says Michael J. Chajes, dean of engineering. — Karen B. Roberts
Cyber threats are increasing in complexity, volume and seriousness, as criminals and terrorists become more adept at accessing all kinds of private information from individuals, companies and nations, with little more than a computer.
Nine UD students and alumni recently graduated from a first-of-its-kind cyber-training camp held as part of an effort to shore up the nation's capability to protect itsinformation systems. Currently, there is a shortfall of individuals trained in this area.
"These security skills are critical to fighting cyber crime and to securing the systems we use daily, like email, social networking and banking," said Chase Cotton, associate director for cyber security at UD's Center for Information and Com-munications Sciences. "These same skills are also needed to help the government and military prepare to defend the country in this electronic battlefield."
The Delaware camp, one of only three in the nation, was organized by Wilmington University, UD, Delaware Technical and Community College, the SANS (SysAdmin, Audit, Network, Security) Institute and the Delaware Department of Technology and Information. — Karen B. Roberts
Cyber Security Boot Camp Delaware presented attendees with myriad challenges in hacking to digital forensics. UD's group took home top honors in the "capture-the-flag" style competition that culminated the event.
If it has a motor, it has a magnet — from cell phones to laptop computers. But the materials used in today's permanent magnets, produced chiefly by China, are dwindling in supply and rising in cost. University of Delaware physicist George Hadjipanayis is leading a multidisciplinary team of scientists aiming to develop the next generation of magnets to pull the U.S. industry back online.
As recently as 25 years ago, the United States ranked first in the production of magnets, George Hadjipanayis says. But then that dominance started to deteriorate.
"Now China is number one, followed by Japan, and then Europe," notes the professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at UD. "Today, there is only one company left that makes magnets in the United States."
The strongest permanent magnets are made from neodymium and praseodymium, iron and boron (Nd(Pr)-Fe-B) as Hadjipanayis well knows. He's one of their inventors. In 1983, he published the first journal article on these magnets, which rapidly revolutionized the industry. Today, he says, the demand for such magnets is still growing, at about 15 percent per year.
"Two big areas of usage for the future are power generation and distribution. Hybrid and electric vehicles and wind turbines use lots of magnets," he notes.
However, reserves of neodymium and dysprosium — two magnetic elements in the rare earth family on the Periodic Table, used in Blackberrys to iPods to Toyota hybrid cars — are projected to last no more than 50 years, he says.
At risk of running out of the elements for its growing population, China, the producer of 97 percent of the world's supply of rare earths, has imposed export quotas and raised prices, along with international concern. Hadjipanayis has participated in recent meetings in Japan, as well as the United States and Europe, focusing on alternative magnet materials.
In 2009, Hadjipanayis won a $4.4 million federal stimulus grant from the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E) to lead a multi-institutional research project to develop advanced magnets that are less dependent on rare earth elements and twice as strong.
Magnet strength is measured in "maximum energy product" (MGOe) units. Today's permanent magnets register between 50‚Äì60 MGOe. Hadjipanayis is shooting for over 100 MGOe.
Working with him on the three-year project are chemists, materials scientists, physicists and engineers from the University of Delaware, University of Nebraska, Northeastern University, and Virginia Commonwealth University; the U.S. Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory at Iowa State University; and Electron Energy Corporation in Landisville, Pa.
Bringing back a technology
A primary focus of the team is to create nanocomposite magnets by putting together particles of neodymium as small as 50 nanometers with even tinier particles (10‚Äì20 nm) of non-rare earth elements, such as iron or cobalt.
"We're basically making magnets by putting nanoparticles together like atoms to form a solid," Hadjipanayis notes.
Professors Siu-Tat Chui and Karl Unruh in the Department of Physics and Astronomy are his co-investigators on the effort at UD, which also involves five postdoctoral researchers and several graduate and undergraduate students.
The team is assembling the particles in specific arrangements in the quest to get their magnetic spins to interact and align in the same direction, achieving optimal strength. Different particle sizes and shapes, both square and spherical, are being explored.
"It's difficult to make these nanoparticles," Hadjipanayis says. "They are highly reactive and get oxidized right away."
Iron at the size of 10 nanometers, for example, catches fire if not protected properly. To prevent that from happening in their experiments, the team uses surfactants such as oleic acid, a component of olive and vegetable oil, as part of the fabrication process. Karl Unruh is making the iron nanoparticles and colleagues from Northeastern University the iron-cobalt nanoparticles.
The team has pioneered a way to make larger quantities of the nanoparticles for research purposes, producing a slurry of "nanoflakes" with thicknesses smaller than 100 nanometers and with a crystallographic texture. Because of this, when a magnetic field is applied, the nanoflakes pile up "like a shish kebab," Hadjipanayis says. Colleagues at Virginia Commonwealth University are coating the nanoflakes with iron-cobalt to help facilitate assembly and maximize their performance.
It's a step-by-step learning process, but Hadjipanayis sees progress.
"I'm happy we're making things happen," he says.
Over the years, Hadjipanayis has witnessed the downturn in magnet research and development in the U.S., but now the tide may be turning. A rare earth mine in California recently reopened, several industry labs are starting up again, and pockets of academic research and teaching are growing, with the largest group at UD and smaller ones in Texas, Nebraska and Iowa.
"If you lose the technology, it takes time to catch up," he says. "You need to have students, and faculty to train the students, and industries for the students to work in.
"This is very high-risk research," he notes. "It takes time to find new materials, and it takes time to commercialize them. However, GM has reopened its research center, which had been closed since the 1980s, and Ford is hiring. We are going to do our best to resurrect and revive U.S. research and development on permanent magnets." — Tracey Bryant
George Hadjipanayis, Richard B. Murray Professor of Physics, is driving research on new, nanocomposite permanent magnets. Among his UD‚Äàteam are Nilay Gunduz-Akdogan (foreground) and postdoctoral researchers Liyun Zheng and Angshuman Pal.
New magnets in the making
Researchers are putting together particles nearly as tiny as atoms to create nanocomposite magnets. At left is the chamber into which samples have been loaded for testing. As shown in the graphic below, specific particle shapes and arrangements are explored in the quest to get the particles' magnetic spins to interact and align, achieving optimal magnet strength.
Inside this bottle are dust-sized particles of neodymium, a rare earth metal used in the magnets that run the motors of smart phones to wind turbines.
John Xiao was fascinated by magnetism as a child. "I thought it was like magic," he says. The attraction has never faded.
Today, the professor of physics and astronomy directs the Center for Spin-tronics and Biodetection (CSB) at UD, a growing research collaboration aimed at lassoing the magnet-like "spin" of electrons to encode and process data.
The new field of "spintronics" is expected to transform the electronics industry, yielding cheaper, faster, less power-hogging cell phones, computers and other devices. Xiao's interest lies in harnessing the "spin" to create new sensors so fine — in environmental monitors to medical diagnostic equipment — they can detect particles a thousand times smaller than a human cell.
UD's center, established in 2007 through the U.S. Department of Energy Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), involves an interdisciplinary team of scientists from UD, as well as researchers from Brown University in Providence, R.I., and Argonne National Laboratory, one of DOE's largest research centers, located near Chicago.
In addition to Xiao, the principal investigators include professor Edmund Nowak, associate professor Branislav Nikolic and assistant professor Yi Ji in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and James Kolodzey, the Charles Black Evans Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering — all at UD — and Souheng Sun, professor of chemistry and engineering at Brown University. Post-doctoral researchers and graduate students from both universities also are involved.
The team has five patents in the pipeline so far, most of them demonstrating spintronics in the microwave regime, which is the UD center's innovation, Xiao says. Their prototype sensor, of particular interest to the military, can detect microwaves through the change in sensor resistance. The sensor can be made smaller than a micron (that's smaller than four one-hundred-thousandths of an inch).
"Microwaves used in communication are very weak, and our sensor is very sensitive and is able to detect the microwave phase with a circuit that is much simpler than those used in traditional approaches. As such, it is easy to build an array of sensors that can be used to image the microwaves," Xiao says. "With this technique, we are exploring medical applications such as the detection of breast cancer — that is a very exciting aspect of this research."
A major goal is to develop a biosensor, patterned much like a DNA chip, that can detect the tiny magnetic field generated by a single nano-sized particle that can then be used to label various biomolecules. Although this approach to biodetection is not new, Xiao says, he and his colleagues are working to perfect the technique, and a prototype biosensor has been developed.
"The goal is to detect as few nanoparticles as possible present," Xiao says. "We can attach DNA to the magnetic particles and ‚Äòfunctionalize' them, linking them, one-to-one, to a biomolecule."
The applications for more sensitive sensors are numerous, Xiao says, from increasing the early diagnosis of cancer, diabetes and other diseases, to detecting harmful viruses as part of antiterrorism programs.
As the work proceeds, each collaborator contributes a critical strength, Xiao says. Brown University researchers are functionalizing the surface of the magnetic particles and know how to attach them to the sensor and to the target biomolecule. The UD researchers are experts at understanding the underlying physics for better sensor design and signal-to-noise ratio, and the feasibility and demonstration of the technology. And colleagues at the Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne National Laboratory are helping to fabricate the spintronics devices.
"This is very much a team effort," Xiao says. "Scientists can do something very useful, very helpful, when working together in an interdisciplinary way." — Tracey Bryant
This prototype sensor invented at the Center for Spintronics and Biodetection can detect micro-waves in radar communication. The highly sensitive device can be made smaller than a micron.
John Xiao displays a prototype sensor invented by the Center for Spintronics and Biodetection, which he directs. A closeup of the sensor is in the photo above.