WWU research teams awarded $1.4M in NSF grants

Two collaborative teams of faculty from Western Washington University’s Advanced Materials Science and Engineering Center were recently awarded highly competitive grants from the National Science Foundation to carry out interdisciplinary materials science research projects.

Professors Amanda Murphy (Chemistry) and Janelle Leger (Physics/Chemistry) were awarded a three-year grant totaling $420,000 to synthesize biologically compatible materials that can be fabricated into devices capable of controlled movements, known as actuators. These devices are highly sought after for use in a variety of biomedical applications such as dynamic artificial tissues, drug delivery depots and steerable surgical instruments.

“The goal of this project is to integrate concepts from chemistry, physics, medicine and engineering to create the next generation of biomedical materials,” said Murphy. “Working on projects like these also provides undergraduate students with experience in performing high-level research in a collaborative environment alongside our faculty, which is invaluable for them as they move forward into graduate school or their careers in the sciences.”

Professors Mark Bussell (Chemistry), Takele Seda (Physics), Stephanie Brock (Wayne State University) and S. Ted Oyama (Virginia Tech/University of Tokyo) were awarded a $919,000 grant to investigate the fundamental properties of a new class of materials – nanoscale metal phosphides – for the removal of sulfur, nitrogen and oxygen impurities from petroleum and renewable bio-oil feedstocks.

The development of new catalysts is necessary to address the substantial impurity levels in these feedstocks, while meeting stringent environmental standards for production of ultralow sulfur transportation fuels and future renewable fuels. Of the grant total, $319,000 will support the research of the WWU faculty members involved in the project.

“As the world works to wean itself from crude oil to meet our energy needs, it is critical that we make the most efficient use of petroleum-based transportation fuels and increase our use of renewable biofuels,” Bussell said. “To do so, better technologies are needed for removing sulfur, nitrogen and oxygen impurities from fuel feedstocks to make fuels as clean-burning as possible. Our research addresses this problem by developing better catalysts that produce cleaner-burning fuels.”

Both of these collaborative projects involve extensive participation of undergraduate and master’s-level students in hands-on research in cutting-edge fields. AMSEC was established in 2007 with the mission to educate students in materials science, support interdisciplinary research, and enhance regional industry competitiveness and innovation. AMSEC brings together faculty and students from Western’s Biology, Chemistry, Engineering, Geology, Mathematics and Physics departments to facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations and synergistic solutions to complex, multifaceted problems.

For more information, contact AMSEC Director Mark Bussell at 360-650-3145 or via email at mark.bussell@wwu.edu, or Amanda Murphy at 360-650-3138 or via email at amanda.murphy@wwu.edu.