Linking industry and academia

UNT & NSF: Faculty Experts in National Science Foundation Centers Provide Industry Relevant Research

With unique facilities and the Dallas-Fort Worth area offering the nation's sixth largest economy, the University of North Texas is an attractive partner for collaborations with industry. Add the university's engineering expertise, and 2011 brought UNT two new National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center sites in addition to its existing I/UCRC. The NSF oversees about 60 of the prestigious centers across the country.

In 2007, Krishna Kavi, professor of computer science and engineering, received funding to create an I/UCRC — the Net-Centric Software and Systems Center — at UNT. And in 2011, I/UCRC sites of the Center for Advanced Non-Ferrous Structural Alloys and the Center for Friction Stir Processing were added.The NSF developed the centers to create a stronger link between industry and academia. They are primarily funded by industry partners, who receive royalty-free access to industry-relevant research. The centers also help create a future workforce by giving students hands-on training and real-world learning opportunities.

"The centers address key pre-competitive issues facing industry and educate a diverse set of students," says Rathindra DasGupta, I/UCRC program director in the NSF Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships. "The program maintains as its goal the building of the innovative capacity of the nation."

Center for Friction Stir Processing

Center for Friction Stir Processing

In August 2011, Rajiv Mishra joined UNT as a professor of materials science and engineering, bringing with him his site for the Center for Friction Stir Processing. Mishra originally established the site at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in 2005. He says he chose to move it to UNT because of the university's well-developed research cluster approach, faculty expertise and proximity to industry.

Like Collins' site, the Center for Friction Stir Processing is working on improving the performance of alloys. Mishra and his colleagues at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Brigham Young University, Wichita State University and the University of South Carolina are advancing friction stir processing, a new technology that manipulates a material's microstructure to alter its properties. The technology eventually could serve as a more efficient method to join and form metallic materials.

"This is the next generation of manufacturing," Mishra says. "It is a very clean technology. There are no fumes and no smoke."In one of Mishra's areas of study, he investigates the advantages of using friction stir processing in forming. The process can be used to give metallic alloys super plasticity at high temperatures, allowing forming of complex integrated parts, like seats or doors. The process can be localized to a small area of the material to allow for greater definition.

The center also is investigating ways to make magnesium alloys, which are lighter than alternatives like aluminum, stronger and more resistant to corrosion. Boeing and General Motors are particularly interested in this application.

Mishra says the relationships he has developed with industry partners over the years have become a valuable asset outside the center, providing opportunities for other contracts and grants.

"Having the support of large industry partners is very advantageous when we apply for other projects. They bring us additional projects outside of the realm of the center and step up to support us in our other proposals," Mishra says.

He adds that one of the most beneficial elements of an I/UCRC for industrial partners is the development of a future workforce.

"Industries get access to students who are already working on their projects and are ready to go from day one," he says. "We have had many of our students go to work for our sponsors."

Ten to 12 graduate and undergraduate students will be supported by Mishra's I/UCRC site, which should be fully up and running by the fall of 2012. 

Industry partners

The National Science Foundation developed Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers to create a stronger link between industry and academia.

The I/UCRC program provides industry, government and other organizations with a way to leverage research and development investments through centers renowned for their innovative research capabilities. The centers are primarily funded by industry partners, who receive royalty-free access to the research.

The Center for Friction Stir Processing was created in 2004. Since the site was brought to UNT in 2011, it has worked with industry leaders including the Army Research Laboratory, Boeing, General Motors, Magnesium Elektron North America, NASA Johnson Space Center and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.  

Story By Alyssa Yancey

Read more about UNT's NSF Centers  

To learn more about getting involved in the Center for Friction Stir Processing, contact Dr. Rajiv Mishra at 940-565-2316 or rajiv.mishra@unt.edu.