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ME PhD student recognized with AVS Thin Film James Harper Award


Andrew Gayle, PhD candidate in U-M Mechanical Engineering, received the AVS Thin Film James Harper Award at the American Vacuum Society’s (AVS) 68th International Symposium for his talk, “Tunable ALD Infiltration into High-Aspect-Ratio Aerogels Enabled by Process Modeling for Solar Thermal Applications.” The award (the Thin Film Division’s premier, competitive graduate student award) is in honor of James M.E. Harper, who was a pioneer in the thin film areas of interconnects and silicides, and was active in the AVS as a Trustee, Director, vice-program chair, Thin Film chair, and many other roles.

Andrew’s talk covered research he has been doing with the Dasgupta Research Group (led by ME Associate Professor Neil Dasgupta) to improve the efficiency of concentrated solar thermal (CST) plants through new uses of solar energy. CST, Andrew told us, involves concentrating sunlight onto a receiver and heating up a fluid that can then be used directly for industrial processes or to generate electricity.

The lab has been working to take CST to higher temperatures with the help of silica aerogels. These highly transparent, highly thermally-insulating, and porous materials help to limit heat losses, but, unfortunately, they lose those helpful properties at the high temperatures the lab was striving for (700-800 C). To modify them for higher temperatures, the lab team used a film deposition technique called atomic layer deposition (ALD) and a thermally-stable ALD material. After some modeling, the team showed that the ALD-modified aerogels were more stable at high temperatures and remained highly-transparent. Of materials characterized at 700 C or above for CST, these modified silica aerogels (coupled with a blackbody absorber) are predicted to have the highest receiver efficiency reported to date. Last year, these promising materials drew backing from the U.S. Department of Energy for further development.

When asked how he feels about this recognition, Andrew said, “I am honored to receive the AVS Thin Film Division James Harper Award. I have been fortunate to have had great teams to work with on several inspiring research projects throughout graduate school. I hope our research aids in humanity’s transition to clean, renewable energy, especially for difficult-to-decarbonize industries.”