Undergrad helps engineer micro machines
Growing up at Lakenheath Air Base in the United Kingdom, Michael Garcia became fascinated with the fighter planes flying overhead. That curiosity stuck with him. Today, he is senior studying aerospace engineering at Arizona State University.
Garcia began his research at ASU in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering's Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative (FURI) program. Without FURI, Garcia does not think he would be involved in undergraduate research.
Henry Sodano is Garcia's mentor. The ASU engineering professor is always available for questions. Sodano allows his students the creative freedom to try their own ideas in the lab. "He is very supportive of my goals and offers a lot of encouragement," says Garcia.
In Fall 2008, Garcia's FURI research focused on compressing stiff, thin films to build stretchable, micro-scale, energy harvesting devices. He attached piezoelectric barium titanate to a layer of electrodes. The material is a ceramic that can generate an electrical charge when stressed,. Electrodes are electrical conductors used to connect nonmetallic pieces of a circuit. By making the attachments, Garcia created small ribbons in the barium titanate.
The next step was to adhere poly(dimethlsiloxane) (PDMS) to the barium titanante. PDMS is a widely used silicon-based polymer. That removed the ribbons.
"By stretching the piezoelectric ribbons, vibrations are created," Garcia explains. These vibrations allow energy to be captured and stored for later use." Garcia says that the work holds great promise for future developments in more compact energy storage solutions for mobile devices and similar technologies.
Garcia began a new project this spring. He is working on methods to develop autonomous self-healing materials using shape memory polymers. Shape memory polymers have the ability to return to their original shape after being deformed. He is working with Sodano to develop materials systems which can sense the presence of damage, stop its progression, and subsequently heal it.
"The concept is to create materials which can sense damage and react to it in ways similar to biological systems, much like the human immune system," says Sodano.
Garcia's research experience helped him gain acceptance into the dual Bachelor of Science and Master of Science program in the Fulton School of Engineering. That program allows him to earn both degrees in four years. Upon graduation, Garcia plans to incorporate what he has learned from his undergraduate research to better understand aircraft construction. He will incorporate his skills in his post-graduate study as well.
"I have found that the more education you earn, the more fun your job can be," he says. Someday, Garcia may even reinvent the fighter planes he used to admire from afar.