In addition to their capstone senior design and other class projects, LeTourneau MJE students have a unique opportunity to conduct materials joining research and development where graduate students and undergraduates work together, most of which is sponsored by the same companies that hire our graduates. The critical thinking, problem-solving and project management skills that are developed in the applied research environment, as well as the self-direction, inquisitiveness and creativity that it fosters, make our graduates especially attractive in the career marketplace. While there are certain commonalities between Senior Capstone Design projects and R&D, research is aimed at applied scientific aspects of each work and at finding new knowledge. On the other hand, the Capstone Design deals with making new devices, validating new designs and supporting the practical aspects of R&D. Below are a few examples. Here is a link to the Senior Design project page.
The II-VI Foundation awarded a second year, $69,775 in external funding in May 2011 to the Materials Joining Engineering program at LETU for continuation of Thermoelectric Element joining research and development. This stage of research is titled “Microwave Welding of Bismuth- and Lead- Telluride Semiconductors” and brings a novel approach to joining by using both Dielectric and Eddy Current heating using microwave frequencies. The ultimate goal of the work is to increase the efficiency of thermoelectric modules, which have the potential of being safe, sustainable and maintenance-free electrical power sources for waste heat reclamation.
Among limiting factors in the current low efficiency of these thermoelectric devices is the joining technology (mostly soldering) used for manufacturing modules. The ability to use welding processes (laser, ultrasonic, microwave) that work above the melting temperature of solder could potentially increase the Figure of Merit of welded TE modules to 15%.
Following 15 years of weldability research on the hydrogen induced cracking susceptibility of High Performance Steels having 70 ksi yield strength, the MJE program at LETU was entrusted with a new, two-year $330,000 R&D project funded by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Research Labs from McLean, VA.