Metallurgical Engineering and IperionX Unveil New Research Facility

Metallurgical Engineering and IperionX Unveil New Research Facility

The new lab follows announcement of 10-year, $10 million agreement with titanium industry leader IperionX

Following the 10-year, $10 million research agreement announced earlier this year between the University of Utah’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Charlotte-based IperionX, the two partners, along with college and university leadership, celebrated the opening of a new state-of-the-art additive manufacturing research center on campus in the William Browning Building. The lab, which houses cutting-edge 3D titanium printing machines, will serve as a hub for the collaboration between Metallurgical Engineering Professor Zak Fang's powder metallurgy research team and IperionX as they work to advance metallurgical technologies for producing primary metals focused on titanium.

The opening of the lab, named the Titanium Additive Manufacturing Research Center, creates new opportunities for U students to gain hands-on experience with cutting-edge materials science and engineering technologies. The partnership aims to inspire the next generation of metallurgical innovators, equipping them with the skills and experience needed to pioneer breakthroughs in sustainable metal production and processing.

IperionX CEO Taso Arima.
Banner photo: Ribbon cutting, led by Provost Mitzi Montoya and IperionX CEO Taso Arima.

"This new lab represents the tangible fruits of our partnership with IperionX and underscores our shared commitment to developing transformative solutions for the energy and transportation sectors," said Fang, the lead researcher on the project. "By combining our academic expertise in materials science and engineering with IperionX's industry know-how and resources, we are poised to make significant strides in areas like additive manufacturing of titanium alloys and recycling of critical minerals."

IperionX’s role as a leader in sustainable titanium production is a key component of this collaborative research effort. The North Carolina-basecompany has patented technologies aimed at recycling the valuable metal at a lower cost and with reduced environmental impact compared to traditional methods. 

“IperionX is excited to continue its extensive collaboration with the University of Utah and Dr. Zak Fang,” said IperionX CEO Taso Arima. “It all started here at the University of Utah, with Dr. Fang’s innovation and his vision for manufacturing and re-shoring low-cost, high performance titanium metal in America. The Titanium Additive Manufacturing Research Center will allow us to continue to rapidly innovate, and we believe this center and continued work with Dr. Fang and his research team will assist to attract students to materials science and engineering — because this is what drives innovation for the critical technologies needed for the U.S. and society as a whole.”

"This academic-industry partnership of the Fang Lab and IperionX exemplifies the College of Science’s innovative bench-to-application research to meet the needs of our energy future," said Peter Trapa, Dean of the College of Science. "By supporting cutting-edge research that addresses real-world challenges, we are cultivating the next generation of scientific leaders and driving economic growth in Utah."

Joint efforts with industry partners have been part of the U's remarkable research growth over the past decade. In fiscal year 2023, university research funding reached a landmark $768 million, nearly doubling its support in the last ten years. As the U continues to work towards a goal of $1 billion in research funding, its leadership views industry collaboration as a vehicle to accelerate discovery and translate research into real-world applications.

“Collaborations like this one are virtuous cycles,” said Richard Brown, H. E. Thomas Presidential Endowed Dean of the John and Marcia Price College of Engineering. “Cutting-edge research and industry supporting one another is the backbone of a growing innovation economy.”

by Bianca Lyon


Creating effective organic semiconductors

Creating Effective organic semiconductors


California’s Silicon Valley and Utah’s Silicon Slopes are named for the element most associated with semiconductors, the backbone of the computer revolution. Anything computerized or electronic depends on semiconductors, a substance with properties that conduct electrical current under certain conditions. Traditional semiconductors are made from inorganic materials—like silicon—that require vast amounts of water and energy to produce.

^ Zlatan Aksamija. ^^ Banner photo above: Muhamed Duhandžić holds two pieces of the organic semiconductor—the blue polymer has been doped with an iodine dopant. PHOTO CREDIT: HARRIET RICHARDSON/UNIVERSITY OF UTAH

For years, scientists have tried to make environmentally friendly alternatives using organic materials, such as polymers. Polymers are formed by linking small molecules together to make long chains. The polymerization process avoids many of the energy-intensive steps required in traditional semiconductor manufacturing and uses far less water and fewer gasses and chemicals. They’re also cheap to make and would enable flexible electronics, wearable sensors and biocompatible devices that could be introduced inside the body. The problem is that their conductivity, while good, is not as high as their inorganic counterparts.

All electronic materials require doping, a method of infusing molecules into semiconductors to boost conductivity. Scientists use molecules, called dopants, to define the conductive parts of electrical circuits. Doping in organic materials has vexed scientists because of a lack of consistency—sometimes dopants improve conductivity while other times they make it worse.  In a new study, researchers from the University of Utah and University of Massachusetts Amherst have uncovered the physics that drive dopant and polymer interactions that explain the inconsistent conductivity issue.

Positively charged carriers are pulled back by negatively charged dopants from the polymer chains, preventing the flow of electrical current and tanking the material’s conductivity. The team discovered that, when enough dopants were injected into the system, the electrons’ behavior changed to act as a collective screen against the attractive forces, allowing the rest of the electrons to flow unimpeded.

“The ideal case would be to dump a bunch of free electrons into the material to do the work of conducting. Of course, we can’t—we have to use molecules to supply the electrons,” said Zlatan Akšamija, associate professor of materials science and engineering at the U and lead author of the study. “Our next step is to find the dopant/organic material combinations that can weaken that interaction and make the conductivity even higher. But we didn’t understand that interaction well enough to be able to tackle it until now.”

The study was published on Dec. 13, 2023, in the journal Physical Review Letters.

Read the full story by Lisa Potter in @theU.