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Undergraduate co-authors paper pointing way to greater air safety

Yan Li
Nicolas Salazar, Mechanical Engineering senior undergraduate student at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.

When you board a plane, you board it with the confidence that it will fly with no problems, right? One of the methods proposed for determining the safety of a plane's structure is the integration of a strain gauge, or device which experiences change in electrical resistance as varying force is applied. In this particular case, one of Mechanical Engineering's undergraduate students, Senior Nicolas Salazar, completed research with Dr. Zhibin Yu and five graduate students from Industrial Engineering, which led to publication of an article about the effectiveness of carbon nanotube-silver nanoparticle composite films as strain gauges.

Nicolas and his colleagues, Dr. Yu, Phong Tran Hoang, Thomas Nolan Porkka, Kunal Joshi, Tao Liu, and Tarik J. Dickens, had their research published September of last year in the journal Nanoscale Research Letters. Their work, entitled "Engineering Crack Formation in Carbon Nanotube-Silver Nanoparticle Composite Films for Sensitive and Durable Piezoresistive Sensors," details the change in electrical conductivity that occurs when carbon nanotube-silver nanoparticle composite films of varying ratios are created. A composite of silver nanoparticle is conductive yet brittle; add carbon nanotube paste to the mix and what you get is an elastic composite film, given the carbon nanotube paste's elasticity. The right ratio of carbon nanotube paste versus silver nanoparticle results in an ideal conductor of electricity, which can be used in determining proper function of structures like airplanes, and other technologies.

Nicolas became involved with this research after meeting Industrial Engineering's Dr. Yu and learning of his work in renewable energy, a subject which had inspired Nicolas' interest in engineering. He then began to work with Dr. Yu as an undergraduate research assistant in May 2015.

It wasn't long before Nicholas, Dr. Yu, and the graduate students from Industrial Engineering banded together to explore composite film crack formation. It also wasn't long before Nicolas would be a part of research headed for publication. On that note, Nicolas recalls, "Dr. Yu was certain from inception that this research would lead to publication."

On reaching the point of publication, Nicolas shares, "I was so proud of our team and very grateful to have had the opportunity to be part of this team and project."

Nicolas plans on working in renewable energy, and says this experience gave him plenty of skills that he can apply to his future career, including experience with the scientific process, "team leading, drafting and design techniques, team dynamics, training in highly specialized precision equipment, and professionalism." And what about other undergrads that want to build the same experience in engineering research? Nicolas adds that they should "work hard and learn at every second. Keep up your grades so you have many opportunities at your finger tips but do not keep them up to sacrifice learning."

"I believe learning and understanding are more important than grades, and everyone learns at their own pace," he continues, also underscoring the importance of a strong network. "Stay connected and get involved in all the things that interest you. Establish a great network of friends, colleagues, and partners."

Clearly practicing what he preaches, Nicolas became coauthor on a published work through his dedication, focus, and willingness to work with others. Given this start to his career, he is no doubt on his way to more great accomplishments in the field of renewable energy.