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Evan McHale, a senior studying materials science and engineering, uses a laser deposition machine at the Millennium Science Complex for his research on lowering the crystallization temperature of materials used as energy storage capacitors. His research is part of his senior thesis. Credit: Penn State / Penn State.

An endowed professorship is opening doors for two Penn State students to obtain laboratory experience as undergraduates. These materials science and engineering majors, Atraphol Sae-Tang and Evan McHale, are conducting research for their senior theses in the Millennium Science Complex with Susan Trolier-McKinstry, Steward S. Flaschen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. Their respective research may be just the beginning of larger, innovative projects at Penn State.

Sae-Tang’s thesis involves the chemical solution deposition of materials used to produce piezoelectric materials, which are used to convert electrical and mechanical energies within widely used electronic devices, such as humidifiers, smartphones and airbag sensors.

“I’m trying to find an alternate process that can replace the lead in the chemical composition of traditional piezoelectric materials,” said Sae-Tang. “There’s been a push for environmentally friendly materials, which includes lowering the amount of lead.”

McHale’s thesis focuses on lowering the crystallization temperature of a bismuth zinc niobate, a material used as an energy storage capacitor. The capacitors accumulate large amounts of energy, which make them candidates for devices that require high levels of power to operate, such as industrial lasers, heart defibrillators and hybrid vehicles.

“My work involves growing a thin film and patterning electrodes onto the film before eventually testing their electrical properties,” said McHale. “This helps me to measure how good of a capacitor I actually have, and I’m trying to make them suitable for low-temperature applications.”

Both students expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to conduct research in a lab setting.

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