Tait S. Pottebaum, assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, has been awarded a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for his work in fluid dynamics.
The $400,336 award will support Pottebaum’s work to produce a new measurement technique and apply it to flows that must be understood in order to enable the development of new microfluidic devices. The five-year award, which becomes effective May 1, 2008, is among the highest honors given to young faculty. The awards are highly competitive and support individual early career efforts to advance research and education in the recipient’s discipline.
Pottebaum’s research focuses on tiny microfluidic devices that are controlled by temperature. Examples of these devices include pumps that move bubbles or droplets in micro-channels and free surface flows that move on micro-patterned surfaces. These types of pumps are becoming increasingly common, with applications ranging from “lab-on-a-chip” devices for DNA replication and bio-hazard detection, microelectromechanical system (MEMS) switches and inkjet printer nozzles.
"While the velocity fields at these moving interfaces have been previously measured, the temperature gradients that drive the flows have not because a suitable technique doesn’t currently exist,” said Pottebaum, whose CAREER award will support research to measure the thermal gradients at moving interfaces between liquids and air in these devices. “By simultaneously measuring the velocity field at the interface, the accelerations and forces produced by the thermal gradients can also be determined, allowing us to develop and experimentally test models of thermocapillary actuation.”To accomplish this, a new optical, whole-field temperature measurement technique for microfluidic devices will be developed using encapsulated thermochromic liquid crystal (TLC) thermometry, which has previously been used only at the macro-scale.
In congratulating Pottebaum on his CAREER award, Michael Kassner, chair of the Viterbi School Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Department, called the research a significant step in the development of next-generation fluidic devices.
“We are very proud of Tait,” he said. “This is the second year in a row that one of AME’s assistant professors has received a CAREER award. We look forward to our third next year.”