UIC ENGINEERING RESEARCHERS WIN INVENTORS AWARD
A University of Illinois at Chicago engineering team is among six winners of this year's Collegiate Inventors Competition, sponsored by the Akron, Ohio-based National Inventors Hall of Fame. The group won for developing a way to convert silicon carbide to a diamond powder that produces a hard, yet almost lubricant-slick coating for dynamic pump seals in automotive engines.
Two UIC materials engineering doctoral students, Sascha Welz and Daniel Ersoy, will share a $20,000 cash prize and will each receive $2,000 gift certificates from Hewlett Packard, one of the corporate sponsors. Faculty advisers Michael McNallan, professor of materials science, and Yury Gogotsi, adjunct professor of mechanical engineering, will share a $10,000 prize. Gogotsi taught full-time at UIC and is now on the faculty of Drexel University in Philadelphia.
The winners will receive their awards in Akron on Sept. 14, one day before this year's National Inventors Hall of Fame induction.
McNallan says the group began working in the late 1990s. Their coating crystals are much finer than industrial synthetic diamonds and are easier to manufacture.
"The usual way to make crystalline diamond requires a high-temperature, high-pressure process," McNallan said. "Our process works at substantially lower temperatures and we do not require high pressures, which means we can make the diamond with larger production apparatus than what is now used for the conventional pressure conversion of carbon to diamond."
The new material is diamond-hard and has a low coefficient of friction, so it does not generate a lot of heat or wear. This makes it an ideal coating for - among other applications - pump seal faces that rub together, yet need to stay cool. Chicago-Allis Manufacturing Corporation has been involved in evaluating that application.
The four UIC researchers published details of their conversion process May 17 in the journal Nature. This is the first time a UIC entry has won in the 11-year-old Collegiate Inventors Competition. There were 184 entries this year - more than any previous year.
Welz says he didn't expect to win because few awards have gone to materials engineering inventions. He was pleasantly surprised when he learned of the award.
"One of the greatest pleasures from any scientific work is getting a surprise development," he said. He noted with irony, "When I joined the team, some of my friends said I was wasting my time."
Ersoy was equally pleased with the win.
"It's one of those things that you put your heart and soul into - work hard and do a good job," he said. "It feels good and fulfilling to be recognized by peers who see your project as valuable."
A Lincolnwood, Ill. resident, Ersoy served eight years in the U.S. Navy in jobs ranging from a meteorologist on Guam to a certified nuclear engineer on a submarine. His long-term career plans remain open. Welz, a German citizen, may do post-doctoral work before either going into industrial management or starting a business to produce diamond powder. Welz presently lives in Chicago's Little Italy neighborhood on the Near West Side.
The UIC research is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
Companies interested in learning more about this technology should contact Lanny Feder, (312) 413-5496; Lfeder@uic.edu. For information on the Collegiate Inventors Competition, contact Gary Goodfriend, (312) 565-4627; firstname.lastname@example.org
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