EPSCoR Status and Overview
The Commonwealth of Kentucky is a manufacturing state. It is the third largest automobile producer, and has aerospace exports valued at $11.5 billion dollars, roughly equal to the state’s annual operating budget. Kentucky is ideally suited as a manufacturing center as it sits on major transportation corridors, has low cost energy, and an available workforce looking to transition from traditional extractive industries. Kentucky’s Governor has stated his goal for Kentucky to be, “the manufacturing and engineering hub of America”. This focus is reflected in the activities of the state’s Cabinet for Economic Development, its 2018-2020 legislative budget, and its investments in workforce development. However, for Kentucky to maintain and grow its manufacturing base, it must adapt and develop the necessary capabilities for the next generation of manufacturing technologies. A particular need is for a greater STEM-literate workforce. The Commonwealth is looking to the state’s universities and colleges to not only train a skilled workforce, but to develop new technologies that maintain Kentucky manufacturers’ competitive position. KAMPERS seeks to meet this challenge through the education of a skilled workforce, creation of new materials that provide a pathway to novel applications, and the development of advanced manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing and embedded systems.
Kentucky’s State Science and Technology Plan: Focusing on a New Economy. Kentucky has a strong manufacturing base but wants to insure it is meeting the needs of its industries as they compete in an increasingly STEM-driven marketplace. The Kentucky S&T plan seeks to advanced manufacturing and new materials to meet these challenges. It also prioritizes expanding expertise in personalized health care. It relies on the research universities, regional comprehensive institutions, and its community and technical college system with 16 colleges located on more than 70 campuses across the state to not only develop new materials and manufacturing technologies, but to produce a trained, STEM-driven workforce for the future of the state. Through the collaborative, integrated partnerships proposed by KAMPERS, current state efforts and investments will be augmented to increase R&D capacity within Kentucky and develop the human capital it needs to become a national center for research excellent in the development and distribution of these technologies.
Current Status, Challenges, and Opportunities. While Kentucky is a large manufacturing state dominated by automotive and aerospace industries, the manufacturing base is heavily dependent on traditional technologies. To develop new industries and maintain competitiveness, the Commonwealth must adapt and innovate, and look to its universities and colleges for leadership. The Kentucky Legislature, through the Cabinet for Economic Development, supports KY NSF EPSCoR with the expectation that it will develop national prominence in manufacturing innovation and education. However, Kentucky faces several challenges in achieving its stated goal of being “the manufacturing hub of America”, including: fragmented expertise within the research community, a lack of critical R&D infrastructure, a workforce trained for the STEM jobs of the future, and a shortage of trained professional scientist and engineers with viable career opportunities that allow them to remain in the state once graduated. To meet these challenges, KAMPERS proposes a strategic integration of institutions and people to refocus its dispersed pockets of faculty excellence that exist in isolation to work toward common objectives. This will serve as the driver to enhance collaborative success and bring new resources and junior faculty hires that will position Kentucky for national prominence. Graduate student and post-doctoral researchers will be supported by an aggressive undergraduate immersion program to enhance research experiences for Kentucky students across the entire state—at its research universities as well as its regional and community colleges and private universities. Besides training in a highly interdisciplinary applied research effort, Kentucky undergraduate and graduate students involved in this project will be given the option to take externships at some of the country’s top research institutions. This experience will allow our students to return and share with their peers the attitudes of excellence and urgency that will help build a stronger research foundation for Kentucky. KAMPERS also proposes a path forward for developing skilled workers through educational efforts in additive manufacturing. Kentucky’s strong entrepreneurial community will allow KAMPERS to broaden the scope of application through outreach, with an integrated statewide network spearheaded by the University of Kentucky’s Office of Technology Commercialization.
Research Goals and Objectives. KY NSF EPSCoR will engage a diverse array of scientists, engineers, and educators in a comprehensive, collaborative program to enhance the capabilities of modern structures for manufacturing and consumer products by embedding electronic function. We will develop
new materials (conductors, semiconductors) for 3D printing of structural elements with integrated electronic capabilities such as sensing, communication, power generation and storage, and actuation. Conductive carbon nanotube fibers within insulating shells will yield printable conductive wires, and semiconducting materials will be based on computationally designed small molecules blended with structural polymers for direct embedding into printed objects. Along with traditional materials for printed electronics, we will harness structural biology to produce active materials from biological processes, anticipating enhanced biocompatibility and the potential for programmed lifetimes to mitigate issues with accumulating e-waste. Spectroscopists and device engineers will screen these new materials for performance and lifetime, and integrate power, logic, and sensing functions. Spectroscopic efforts will include substantial thermal transport measurements, both for heat management and thermoelectric power generators. Key new hires will leverage current research expertise for the exploration of integration between devices as well as co-fabrication of electronic devices within 3D structural objects.
The most significant enhancements to functional objects will require their structure to sense aspects of their environment. The simplest inputs to realize are temperature and pressure, as detection schemes are already reported in the flexible electronics community. Our task will be the seamless integration into robotic or other structural components, along with development of hardware and software to process the resulting data. More complicated sensing modalities will include analyte perturbation of voltage in porous semiconductors for chemical detection, programmed zinc finger proteins for pathogen detection, and analyte-triggered polymerization for signal amplification and direct visualization in systems embedded within structures. All of these sensors will be integrated through carbon-based data processing and logic circuitry, and the resulting data either stored for future use or communicated to human operators through display or tactile feedback. For autonomous applications, on-board power generation will be achieved through advancements in emerging areas such as perovskite photovoltaics, and harvesting thermal energy using both organic / inorganic hybrid and nanocarbon-based thermoelectric power generators. Power storage will be accomplished by novel variations in redox-flow battery technology. After device validation, we will generate enhanced functional objects by, for example, integrating sensors into modern robotic manufacturing systems, and bring enhanced capabilities to robots used in service and healthcare industries. Prosthetics engineers will embed temperature and pressure sensors into artificial limbs, working to determine novel modes of wearer feedback. A key outcome of this effort will be a fully documented ecosystem of equipment and feed stocks for the combined printing of structures and electronics designed for maker communities and home-based distributed manufacturing. As structures gain function, software to process the large amount of data generated by sensing systems will be required. Our team of computer scientists and roboticists will explore in detail issues of human – machine interfaces to generate adaptive software that learns from user input to enhance performance. Extensive machine-learning paradigms and data mining will enhance the comfort and safety of interactions between humans and robotic systems critical to their use in manufacturing and healthcare environments. The image below represents the vision for the KAMPERS project.