LSU Chemistry Faculty Collaborate on $20M Funded Project for Research and Education on 3D Printing

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awards Louisiana with a five-year, $20 million grant to form the Louisiana Materials Design Alliance (LAMDA), transforming research and education in manufacturing and materials.

In midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, starting a new forward-thinking project provides hope and excitement for a time post-coronavirus.

“It’s [EPSCoR] really trying to encourage a collaboration,” said Dr. John Pojman, the chair of the LSU chemistry department and professor of macromolecular science. “I can say I never would have met the people I have. Last summer was the first time I used zoom and we spent days and days doing zoom meetings with people at Louisiana Tech.”

LAMDA will research 3D printing for plastic and metal products that have a lower defect rate and higher sustainability.

When 3D printing comes to mind, most people think of a futuristic technology only seen in star trek: a bulky machine which transforms items from 2D to 3D.

However, this technology is very real on planet earth and now with the financial support of the NSF, scientists in Louisiana will get the chance to explore further the revolutionary concept.

Researchers will be using advanced technology to test different materials such as complex alloys and polymers to see how they do under pressure and heat.

3D printing is relatively new and this opportunity will close educational gaps and thus foster a better understanding of this technology and future applications.  

This research will be focusing on machine learning which is a complicated process that will save a great deal of time if successfully assimilated. Machine learning is the process of using artificial intelligence to learn from experience, like humans do, without being explicitly programmed.

“It’s a simple phrase but when you get down to trying to implement it, the details become tricky,” said Dr. Les Butler, a professor of inorganic and materials science at LSU.

In simple terms, the structure of the polymers that make up most synthetic materials have different components, and the arrangements of these components are enormous. So enormous that the cycle time between making a material and testing it is approximately two weeks.

“There’s just not enough time in the universe to make all the materials and test all the materials,” said Butler.

Through machine learning, predictions of materials will be made and what would take a lifetime to test and create a variety of materials will be able to be narrowed down to a five-year project.

This is exciting for the future of production and the formation of new materials for specific purposes.

One of these materials for example is shape memory polymers where you can program a shape and when you heat it, it will go back to its shape.

LAMDA is coordinated by the Louisiana Board of Regents and will incorporate institutions—Louisiana State University, Louisiana Tech University, Southern University, Tulane University, and University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

The effort of the Chemistry Department will be led by Pojman and Butler. This will be a great opportunity for LSU students, especially if this field of research is one they are particularly interested in.

“Dr. Pojman contributes polymer expertise and I contribute expertise in x-ray and neutron tomography [3D printing].”

Those involved in the research will be a combination of undergraduate students, graduate students, post-doctoral students, and industrial collaborators.

This study will bring together people who might never meet, combining great minds to create amazing things.

“I wouldn’t normally be working with that many engineers,” said Pojman. “There is a lot of chemistry but I don't know the engineering part.”

This sort of cooperation will bridge gaps in different expertise and also create friendships.

“What they always say is to get professors together is like herding cats, you can't herd cats,” said Pojman. “You just put a can of cat food in the middle and they all come around so the government puts a can of money and we come around and cooperate.”

-Contributed by Elizabeth Cui (May 2020)