NSF CAREER Award Benefits Students as Much as Faculty

By: Liz Daubenmire

Murali Sundaram, PhD, professor of mechanical engineering, received the NSF CAREER Award for his work with 3D Printing, allowing his team to continue building onto undergraduate research.

Sundaram (right, with CEAS Department Head of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, Jay Kim) being honored with a luncheon on Friday, Feb. 27.

Sundaram (right, with CEAS Department Head of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, Jay Kim, PhD) being honored with a luncheon on Friday, February 27, 2015.

Metal part 3-D printed at room temperature

Metal part 3-D printed at room temperature

3D printing is changing the pace for technological advancement.  Its medical, automotive, and everyday applications are rapidly expanding.  3D printing differs from traditional manufacturing because of its additive process.  Instead of carving a prototype out of a block of material, 3D printing lays out the design layer-by-layer, resulting in less waste and more precision. 

Mechanical engineering professor Murali Sundaram from the UC College of Engineering and Applied Science has dedicated his research to the field of additive manufacturing and was recently awarded the NSF CAREER Award for his contributions.

Sundaram explains, “The NSF award provides half a million dollars over a period of the next five years to support fundamental research and education needed for the development of an additive manufacturing process.”

He goes on to say, “In addition to the funding for graduate student support, this award allows us to seek funding to provide research experience for undergraduate students. I am a strong supporter of involving undergraduate students in cutting edge research... Unlike most of the other grants, a CAREER award gives equal weight to research and educational efforts.””

Sundaram takes great pride in involving his students as a way of training the next generation of engineers with the highest caliber education.  “I currently have five undergraduate students working in my lab. This NSF award not only helps us to sustain these efforts but also enables us to attract more undergraduate students towards manufacturing research.”

The opportunity to conduct research as an undergraduate enhances both course work and experiences within cooperative education.  For these reasons, CEAS continues to encourage undergraduate research made possible by generous grants from academic partners.

Simulation studies help to understand the process mechanism

Simulation studies help to understand the process mechanism

3D printing is a relatively new process to understand.  Professor Sundaram explains, “Additive manufacturing (3D printing) is an emerging trend in manufacturing that makes three-dimensional objects by adding material selectively at locations specified by the digital computer model of the desired part.”  The existing additive manufacturing processes are good but still have limitations.  Some of these obstacles Professor Sundaram would like to overcome include the current use of lasers, which can cause heat damage, the need for temporary support structures during the printing phase, and inability to produce nanoscale parts.  Sundaram explains, “This exciting new 3D printing capability opens up lots of collaborative research opportunities in diverse fields such as biomedical, renewable energy, and much more.”

Professor Sundaram’s passion in his field is certainly fueled by the NSF award.  He says, “I intend to emerge, within a decade, as a highly productive and transformative researcher-scholar, active in the field of advanced manufacturing, particularly in nontraditional manufacturing processes, with internationally noticeable research and educational activities, in the areas of nano and micro manufacturing.” 

Reflecting on the meaning of his recent success, Sundaram continues, “This CAREER award is an important milestone for me in this voyage and an excellent recognition of my efforts. Every time I receive a research grant, I feel reassured that I am on right track.  I am motivated.”

Professor Sundaram expresses his gratitude by saying, “I thank NSF for its tremendous support of junior faculty like me through this CAREER award….Last but not least, I take this opportunity to thank outstanding support and encouragement received from my colleagues, Department and College.”  The College of Engineering and Applied Science congratulates Professor Murali Sundaram, PhD on this incredible award resulting in equal benefits for both him and his students.