NSF Grant Will Support College’s Nanoscale Materials Development and Research

Dr. Amy Fleischer
Dr. Amy Fleischer

A team of Villanova University Mechanical Engineering faculty has been awarded a $412,106 Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) grant from the National Science Foundation. The project, titled “Acquisition of Atomic Layer Deposition Device for Nanoscale Materials Development Research,” is under the direction of Professor Amy Fleischer, PhD; Assistant Professor Calvin Li, PhD; and Associate Professor Gang Feng; along with Daeyeon Lee, PhD, a Chemical Engineering professor from the University of Pennsylvania; and Xuemei Cheng, PhD, a Bryn Mawr College Physics professor.

Dr. Fleischer, who serves as the project’s primary investigator, explains the need for this high level infrastructure: “Engineering faculty are placing increased emphasis on nanomaterials fabrication and development, which necessitates the upgrading of experimental facilities. This atomic layer deposition device anchors nanoparticles with a thermal or plasma thin film material that enables critical new research areas.” Examples of research being conducted include Drs. Feng’s and Daeyeon’s layer-by-layer assembly process to fabricate multifunctional nanostructured thin films for optical use, including the anti-fogging and anti-reflection coatings commonly applied to eyeglasses. Drs. Fleischer and Li are working on new materials for advanced energy systems. Other uses include high-performance catalysis, photovoltaics and biomedical devices and implants.

The Villanova Atomic Layer Deposition facility, housed in the Advanced Microscopy Laboratory in the Center for Engineering Education and Research, will bring together faculty from three Philadelphia-area colleges and universities for collaborative nanomaterials research and development. “It is significant that this grant links faculty and student researchers at three distinct types of institutions,” notes Dr. Fleischer. “You have Penn, classified as a ‘very high research activity’ university; Bryn Mawr College, which has an all-female undergraduate program and was the first institution in the country to offer doctoral degrees to women; and Villanova, an up-and-coming doctoral/research university.”

The grant also is noteworthy in its support of women in STEM. Two of the principals are female STEM faculty members, and 12 of the 35 students being advised by the grant’s PIs also are women. Given Villanova’s focus on undergraduate education, Dr. Fleischer also was happy to point out that the five PIs combined are advising 19 undergraduate students.

Thanks to the MRI grant, this new instrument will create an immediate and lasting impact on Villanova’s ability to recruit high-quality faculty members. Dr. Fleischer says, “Being able to offer access to leading-edge equipment will help attract leading researchers and educators who can make an immediate impact as they join this dynamic group.”