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MU College of Engineering Success

Laser Focus on Innovation 

It’s a laser so precise it can carve out the Mizzou Tigers logo in a space of no more than a half-inch by half-inch. And the process that allows that laser to create such a customized pattern just earned an MU College of Engineering researcher and his team an impressive accolade.

Jian Lin, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and his research team recently published a paper called “Laser induced MoS2 /carbon hybrids for hydrogen evolution catalysts” in the Journal of Materials Chemistry A.

The journal selected the paper for its “Emerging Investigators 2016: Novel design strategies for new functional materials” issue, which sought submissions from young, up-and-coming researchers in the area of materials, highlighting “the very best work from materials chemists in the early stages of their independent career.” Only 31 submissions were selected.

“They only target rising stars in the field. So we are very lucky to be picked by them,” Lin said.

Lin and his team, collaborating with Shashi Karna and Lily Giri from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, developed a technique which grew out of the direct laser writing (DLW) method. The team created a way of synthesizing hybrid nanocatalysts into any patterned geometric shape.

“The main goal of our research was to find an efficient and cost-effective way to integrate nanostructures with micro energy storage units for applications in micro-electronics,” Lin said. “Our lab decided to test whether catalysts could be synthesized and patterned on any surfaces by a one-step laser processing to produce microbatteries and micro fuel cells in the shapes dictated by computer programs.”

The surface created by this method created an electrically conductive surface with enhanced catalytic capabilities. The process also is universal, allowing researchers to synthesize and pattern any possible catalysts into any chosen size and shape, patterned using a computer program which tells the laser what pattern to fabricate.

“The laser can create high temperatures and high pressures in a very short time, and that temperature and pressure can transform the precursor into the catalyst,” said Heng (Henry) Deng, a doctoral student and member of Lin’s research team.

The creation of this laser-induced process could eventually open the door for smaller, thinner microelectronic devices and also could have an impact on the environment, allowing for greener battery manufacturing, cleaner fuel cell use and use of higher-density batteries that require no or less frequent replacement.

“This is the first step in manufacturing micro-fuel cells that convert chemical energy into electrical energy and batteries that can integrate into microcircuits,” Lin said.

“By honing the process, handheld device and smartphone manufacturers will be able to produce components in whatever shape or size they choose, greatly impacting the size of these devices,” he added. “Also, manufacturers will be able to choose more environmentally-friendly catalysts for generating hydrogen or oxygen, which are considered cleaner fuels. The possibilities will be endless.”

For more on this story visit the MU College of Engineering's website.