New Mechanical Engineering Professor Models Nanomaterials
A native of Fayetteville, Paul Millett has spent the past seven years in Idaho Falls at the Idaho National Laboratory under the U.S. Department of Energy. At INL, Millett used computational modeling to study how the properties of nuclear fuels and structural materials change over time inside a nuclear reactor.
Now an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas, Millett plans to apply his materials and modeling expertise to a broader range of research. Among other things, Millett plans to use computational methods to design next-generation thin-film membranes. Membranes occur naturally in biological systems, but recently, engineers have begun designing synthetic membranes with nanoscale structure.
Millett is looking at ways to use nano- and meso-particles to create membranes that can perform multiple functions simultaneously, such as separating two chemicals while acting as a catalyst in a chemical reaction. For example, these films could incorporate silicon nanoparticles that have recently been shown to split water molecules, creating hydrogen for use in fuel cells.
Millett designs and studies these membranes using computer modeling. He digitally simulates thin films that are comprised of mixtures of nanoparticles and two different polymers that are immiscible, or incapable of being blended completely. As the two polymers separate, the nanoparticles arrange themselves along the boundaries between them. Once the polymers harden, one polymer type can be dissolved away, leaving small holes that are coated in nanoparticles—resulting in a membrane that utilizes the properties of these particles. By using computational simulations, Millett can perfect these designs before investing the time and materials it would take to create them in the lab.
"Dr. Millet's experience in materials and computational modeling is a great fit for our department," said Jim Leylek, head of the mechanical engineering department. "We're happy to have him back at the University of Arkansas, and excited about his new work in this emerging field. With the addition of Dr. Millet's focus on nano and mesoscale materials, research in our department now covers the full range of scales in computational materials."
"I'm very happy to be here," said Millett, "and I'm excited to again be a part of the community in the College of Engineering and to build collaborations across campus."
Millett received a doctorate and master's degree in civil engineering at the University of Arkansas and a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Vanderbilt University. He has a wife, Lea, and a 16-month-old daughter.
Camilla Medders, director of communications
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