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Three-in-one: Pitt researcher receives NSF grant to study the complexity of ternary multiphase materials

PITTSBURGH  (August 13, 2013) … "Multiphase materials" are ubiquitous in everyday life, from rubber tires and paints to mayonnaise and shampoo. These materials are distinctive in that some are solid particles dispersed in fluid; some are mixtures of two fluids; and some are gas bubbles dispersed in fluids. A grant from the National Science Foundation will allow researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering to better understand and control structure and flow of such three-component multiphase systems with the goal of improving manufacturing processes and potentially leading to the creation of new materials. 

The project, "Structure and flow in solid/fluid/fluid systems: Model studies using immiscible polymer blends", is funded through a $311,689 grant from NSF's Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems (CBET) Division, through the Particulate and Multiphase Processes program. 

The overall goal is to examine the role of surface tension-related phenomena (often called capillarity) in multiphase flow and structure. The Principal Investigator,  Sachin Velankar, PhD , Associate Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, explains: "As a community, we know a great deal about structure and flow of particulate suspensions as well as droplet-matrix emulsions. But we know very little about what happens when all three things - particles, fluid drops, and a continuous phase fluid - are present. We know that the flow behavior is materials is not-quite-solid, and not-quite-liquid, but we know little about the structure. This is what our experiments will target."

The experimental approach uses "model" materials, i.e. materials that are kept sufficiently simple that the issues of interest - interfacial phenomena and their role in structure development - can be highlighted. For this reason, using molten polymers as the fluids is especially convenient since the structure can be frozen by simply cooling. "So we can get results that are relevant to a wide range of materials - including aqueous systems - without ever performing electron microscopy on liquids, which is rather hard," Dr. Velankar elaborates. "The eventual goal of the project is to develop new ways to process multiphase materials as well as create new materials that are not possible at present."

Dr. Velankar joined the University of Pittsburgh in August 2002, following postdoctoral fellowships at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, and the University of Minnesota. His research deals with polymers, rheology, two-phase flow, interfacial phenomena, and colloidal systems. 


Contact: Paul Kovach