Opportunity to explore drives NastasiDec 13th, 2012 | By tfedderson2 | Category: 2012, Dec. 13, Issue, Research
Mike Nastasi said the thrill of the discovery following an experiment is what drives him to explore. He is honored by AAAS for contributions in energy, manufacturing, nanotechnology and microelectronics.
Nastasi is director of the Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences Research and Elmer Koch Professor of mechanical and materials engineering. Established in 2006, the center facilitates collaborative research into renewable domestic energy resources and energy efficiency to create economic opportunities for Nebraska. It is a partnership between UNL and Nebraska Public Power District and other industry partners. He previously worked with the Department of Energy at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. He focuses on developing materials for extreme radiation environments. Earlier this year he was awarded a $980,000 the three-year project from the Department of Energy to improve nuclear reactor safety, performance and cost competitiveness.
“I have been fortunate enough to be a fellow of a number of societies, my first being as a fellow in Los Alamos National Laboratory, then the American Physical Society, Materials Research Society, now the AAAS,” Nastasi said. “All these are fantastic recognitions, and years of hard work have paid off. With this recognition, one of the important things that has to happen is your colleagues have to think well enough of you to nominate you. So this is quite an honor.”
Nastasi researches radiation tolerance and mechanical properties of nanostructured ceramic/metal composites — a subject that has increased in importance over the years and has allowed him to delve into new areas of exploration.
“I’ve been working in radiation effects since I was a grad student and have remained flexible over the years because the application for radiation effects is a moving target,” he said. “When I was doing my Ph.D. thesis, which was on understanding materials for nuclear reactor environments, Three Mile Island happened… and the funding dried up, so I started looking into how radiation effects could be used to synthesize novel materials for industrial applications, and that ultimately led to a cooperative research agreement with Los Alamos and General Motors to help GM develop engine components that lasted a long time.”
The development of a process and technology to allow aluminum pistons to run with low-coefficient friction without a lubricant, resulting in an R&D 100 award. That led to looking at similar types of processes with different materials.
“I’m an experimentalist. So when we do an experiment and then analyze it to see the end result… every day would be like Christmas morning, because I never knew — I had a hint — and it was a fascinating experience to see what really happened, then put together and understanding of why what happened, happened, then come up with a theory and scientific method to change the parameters and go back and change the hypothesis,” he said.
Nastasi plans to continue his research and write textbooks so others can benefit from learning from his research.