UTEP Femtosecond Laser Machine | Photo courtesy UTEP

UTEP receives One of Three Femtosecond Laser Machine

The University of Texas at El Paso is now home to one of only three femtosecond laser machines in the world.

University officials shared the news Wednesday, pointing out it’s a feat that they say “significantly enhances the University’s advanced manufacturing research.”  The laser is funded by six grants totaling more than $1 million backed by the U.S. Department of Energy through Honeywell Federal Manufacturing and Technologies.

Femtosecond laser machining is an advanced manufacturing technology that uses high-power laser pulses and scans at femtosecond speeds – one quadrillionth of a second – to cut the surface of materials, allowing for the machining of micron and submicron features. This unique six-axis Hexapod machine makes complex cuts with robotic precision.

UTEP faculty members Calvin M. Stewart, Ph.D., associate professor of mechanical engineering, and Yirong Lin, Ph.D., professor of mechanical engineering, will lead three grants apiece as principal investigators.

The awards will fund multiple projects to develop advanced manufacturing technology and create innovative opportunities for students.

“The UTEP College of Engineering is honored to house the femtosecond laser, and I am extremely proud of the research led by Dr. Stewart and Dr. Lin,” said Patricia Nava, Ph.D., dean of the College of Engineering. “They are pioneers in their field, and well equipped to maximize this cutting-edge technology to drive their research to new heights. I am pleased that they will include so many students in their work, helping to prepare a new generation of engineers with experience in this field, thus reinforcing the College of Engineering’s reputation of providing a dynamic and diverse workforce for the nation.”

The use of the femtosecond laser machine in UTEP’s research lab is one of the first demonstrations of the technology tied to this unique model machine.

“This machine allows us to do amazing things, like put a pattern on the surface of an aircraft wing, a pattern kind of like fish scales,” Stewart said. “Fish scales reduce drag, allowing fish to swim efficiently through water. With this system we can put a similar – we call it biomimetic – pattern on the wing of an aircraft to improve performance and reduce fuel consumption. We can cut complex cooling channels into the thermal barrier coatings of hypersonic vehicles. We will be able to functionalize surfaces to adhere, absorb or repel water, which is critically important in hydrogen fuel cells. This is going to position UTEP even further in the field of advanced manufacturing and expand our efforts in aerospace, hypersonics and green-energy initiatives.”

The goal of UTEP researchers is to further develop the technology by conducting innovative material science and engineering research while providing distinct training and skills to UTEP students, making them highly marketable recruits for government agencies and industry leaders.

“We have at least 35 students with the Partnership for Research and Education Consortium in Ceramics and Polymers (PRE-CCAP) ready to work with the Kansas City National Security Campus on the femto-second laser machine project,” Lin said. “In the future, we are going to expand this technology to other material science and engineering research projects and initiatives. Not only graduate students will be doing this type of research, but undergraduates will be exposed to this cutting-edge technology as well.”

“The strong partnership that UTEP and the entire PRE-CCAP team has created with Kansas City National Security Campus truly showcases the success of the Minority Serving Institutes Partnership Program’s core mission to build a sustainable STEM pipeline between Minority Serving Institutions and the Nuclear Security Enterprise (NSE),” said David Canty, program manager at the National Nuclear Security Administration.

“Not only has this partnership expanded the capacity of the university partners in NSE areas of interest, but it has also paved the way for students to join the NSE and make immediate and meaningful contributions to the mission.”