NSF MRI Development Grant to Support Aerogel Research

Award Date: August 2012


A interdisciplinary team of faculty researchers -- Brad Bruno (Associate Professor/Chair of Mechanical Engineering), Ann Anderson (Professor of Mechanical Engineering), and Mary Carroll (Professor of Chemistry) -- have secured an NSF MRI Development grant in the amount of $276,477 to advance their aerogel research activities.  The project "MRI: Development of an Instrument for Testing Catalytic Aerogel Materials" represents Union's first instrument development award under NSF's Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) program, enabling the researchers to develop an advanced modular engineering testbed. 


The Union Catalytic Testbed (UCaT), which will consist of a gas mixing system, a catalytic reactor and a gas sensing system, will provide this interdisciplinary group with the capability to undertake experiments in catalytic aerogel material (CAM) performance that are currently not possible, because there are no commercially available instruments or systems that have the required capabilities for the application and are economically feasible for an undergraduate institution.

Broader Impacts
Funding of this research will enable the Union College aerogel team to provide valuable learning, research, and training opportunities for the engineering and chemistry undergraduates who will participate in this dynamic multi-disciplinary work. Union has a demonstrated history of excellence in introducing undergraduate students to research and design projects at a formative stage of their academic careers, providing them with coursework that provides the necessary background for success in graduate studies, and placing them successfully in graduate programs and industrial positions. To date, more than 70 undergraduate students in mechanical engineering, chemistry, and biochemistry have performed aerogel research at Union, working alongside faculty mentors, using state-of-the-art instrumentation, presenting and, in some cases, publishing their results. Because students participate in a meaningful way in research projects, they are able to better appreciate the inner workings of an experimental research laboratory, by far the best way to stimulate and interest students in a career in research. The testbed development will be undertaken as a series of design, construction and testing projects for undergraduate students, including students from traditionally underrepresented groups, under the direction of the three PIs. Thus, this work will have a positive impact on the scientific infrastructure of this nation.