Clarion University tops $1 million in National Science Foundation grants

July 24, 2019
 Li with students

Li with students Kira Smith (secondary education/physics), Kimberly Westover (biology) and Christopher Carey, who has since graduated and is a Ph.D. student at West Virginia University during a Microscopy and Microanalysis conference in Baltimore in 2018.

Clarion University and physics professor Dr. Chunfei Li have been awarded a $305,097 grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant will support Li's project, "RUI: Morphology and Crystalline Orientation of Particles in Al65Cu20Fe15 Alloy Prepared by Arc Melting." With this grant, the university and Li have received $1,005,642 in NSF grants since 2011.

"In addition to scientific contribution, the project has significant impact on the education at Clarion University," Li said. "Students will be given opportunity to take on part of the project, which will be conducted on a level similar to those conducted at research universities and national labs. Two undergraduate students will have opportunity to work as paid research assistants."

Through prior work on the project, Li and his students have identified previously unreported details about the morphology and crystalline orientation of surface particles of a molten aluminum-copper-iron alloy.

"Six important problems have been identified," Li said. "In-depth experimental investigation will make significant progress in our understanding about this important alloy."

He explained that in solid materials, the two extremes of atomic configuration are crystalline and amorphous structures.

"In a crystalline structure, atoms are arranged according to predefined rules, while in amorphous structures atoms are packed in random fashion. Quasicrystalline structure can be considered as a state between the two," Li said. "Materials of crystalline and amorphous structures, represented by gold and window glass, respectively, have been known to mankind for thousands of years. In contrast, materials of quasicrystalline structure were recently discovered in the 1980s, and many aspects remain to be studied."

The majority of the project will be conducted at Clarion campus based on the usage of the state-of-the-art scanning electron microscope, energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy, and electron backscattering diffraction, equipment purchased through prior NSF grants. The studies will be supplemented by theoretical analysis, x-ray diffraction, focused ion beam and transmission electron microscope examinations in collaboration with University of Maryland, SUNY University of Buffalo and Youngstown State University.

Students can participate as volunteers or to fulfill a course requirement. Approximately 100 undergraduate students will be exposed to the project through introductory courses. Two high school students will have the opportunity to work on the project for a week in summer as paid research assistants. Finally, students from one neighboring high school will be invited to campus to learn about the project from principal investigator and undergraduate students.

Students working on the present project will be required to learn about the research conducted around the world, make occasional trips to research universities to use instruments housed there, and to attend national conferences. These activities help them to learn and to take opportunities beyond Clarion. Student participants are trained as if they are graduate students, in areas such as to propose a solution for a problem, to keep good lab notes, to manage time to keep a project on track, to be persistent when things are not going well, to assist the writing of scientific papers and preparation of presentations.

Many students are expected to be authors or co-authors of articles on peer-reviewed journals or presentations in international and local conferences. These are helpful to those who prepare to pursue graduate studies. Through this project, students gain confidence in hand-on activities such as operation of research grade instruments, which place them in a stronger position in applying for industry jobs.

Last Updated 7/24/19