NSF award will boost UAB research in plasma synthesis of new materials based on machine learning – News

The $20 million National Science Foundation award will help UAB and eight other Alabama-based universities build research infrastructure. UAB’s share will be approximately $2 million.

Yogesh Vohra Yogesh Vohra, Ph.D., is co-principal investigator of a National Science Foundation award that will bring the University of Alabama at Birmingham approximately $2 million over five years.

The total award of the $20 million NSF EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Enhancement Program – with its principal investigator Gary Zank, Ph.D., based at the University of Alabama at Huntsville – will help strengthen the research infrastructure at UAB, UAH, Auburn University, Tuskegee University, University of Southern Alabama, Alabama A&M University, Alabama State University, Oakwood University and the University of Alabama.

The award, “Future Technologies and Enabling Plasma Processes,” or FTPP, aims to develop new technologies using plasma in hard and soft biomaterials, food safety and sterilization, and space weather forecasting. This project will build plasma expertise, research, and industrial capacity, as well as a highly skilled and skilled plasma science and engineering workforce, throughout Alabama.

Unlike solids, liquids and gases, plasma – the fourth state of matter – does not exist naturally on Earth. This ionized gaseous substance can be made by heating neutral gases. At UAB, Vohra, a professor and scholar in UAB’s Department of Physics, used microwave-generated plasmas to create thin diamond films that have many potential uses, including ultra-hard coatings and diamond encapsulated sensors for extreme environments. This new FTPP grant will support research on plasma synthesis of materials that retain their resistance at high temperatures, superconducting thin films, and the development of plasma surface modifications that incorporate antimicrobial materials into biomedical implants.

see you insideVohra says the UAB Physics Department will primarily use its share of the award to support faculty at the UAB Center for Nanoscale Materials and Biointegration and two full-time postdoctoral researchers, and support the hiring of a new faculty member in computational physics with a background in machine learning. “Machine learning predictions using existing databases of material properties will enable our research team to shorten the time between material discovery and actual deployment in real-world applications,” Vohra said.

The NSF EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Enhancement Program helps build partnerships among academic institutions to make lasting improvements to research infrastructure and research and development capacity. EPSCoR stands for Program Established to Stimulate Competitive Research, an effort to level the playing field for states, territories and a commonwealth that historically have received lesser amounts of federal funding for research and development.

Jurisdictions may compete for the NSF EPSCoR awards if their five-year level of total NSF funding is less than 0.75% of the total NSF budget. Current qualifiers include Alabama, 22 other states, and Guam, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

Besides Alabama, the other four winners of the 2022 EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement Program are Hawaii, Kansas, Nevada, and Wyoming.

In 2017, UAB was part of another five-year, $20 million NSF EPSCoR award to Alabama universities.

The Department of Physics is part of the College of Arts and Sciences at UAB.

Sherry J. Basler