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October 25, 2017
October 25, 2017, Clemson, South Carolina—A Clemson University graduate student whose work could help make cars lighter and more fuel efficient will receive $20,000 as the winner of this year's Hitachi High Technologies Electron Microscopy Annual Fellowship.
Brandt Ruszkiewicz uses Hitachi electron microscopes at Clemson to examine how a super-strong type of aluminum reacts to electricity. His research could lead to new ways of forming and joining together automotive parts, he said.
Brandt Ruszkiewicz (left) said he will have more time to work on electron microscopes after winning this year's Hitachi High Technologies Electron Microscopy Annual Fellowship.
Ruszkiewicz is pursuing his Ph.D. in automotive engineering under Laine Mears, the BMW SmartState Chair in Automotive Manufacturing.
The fellowship is open to graduate students who use Hitachi electron microscopes in their research. Ruszkiewicz is the fourth Hitachi High Technologies Fellow since the program began in 2014.
Ruszkiewicz said the award gives him more financial freedom, allowing him to focus even more keenly on his research.
"I've got a lot more time to spend with these microscopes now," he said. "I'm really excited to get through this work and see what we find. It's an interesting opportunity because there aren't a lot of people who can use a microscope that zooms in 2 million times."
Ruszkiewicz also plans to put some of the money toward preparing specimens he will examine in the lab.
Mears said that Ruszkiewicz is driven to succeed and that electron microscopy is at the core of his study.
"Brandt has incredible potential for technical and research leadership in a key economic area for the U.S.," Mears said. "He is creative, competent, and excited to define and execute research. We need his input to make future lightweight vehicle designs realizable."
Ruszkiewicz works with 7000-series aluminum, the strongest type commercially available. Automakers are using 5000- and 6000-series aluminum to make parts, but those parts could be slimmed down if they could be made with the 7000-series aluminum.
That would make for a lighter and more fuel-efficient car.
The trouble is that 7000-series aluminum is difficult to form, machine, and join to other parts unless it is softened.
Researchers know that using electricity instead of heat from a furnace to soften aluminum has benefits, but they are unable to predict how the metal will respond to electricity. It could soften more than desired and that gets to be a problem when thin sheets are stamped into auto parts, Ruszkiewicz said.
"If it causes too much softening, aluminum will actually buckle and you'll get wrinkles in your part," he said. "No one wants wrinkles on the outside of their car. We can't quite predict its behavior yet. We don't know exactly how the part will move or how it will react with electricity."
The Hitachi microscopes at Clemson's Electron Microscopy Lab allow Ruszkiewicz to compare aluminum samples that were heated in a furnace with those augmented with electricity. One of the microscopes—Hitachi's H-9500 Transmission Electron Microscope—is so powerful it can make individual atoms visible.
Craig Kerkove, president and CEO of Hitachi High Technologies America, plans to lead a group from the company to Clemson, to present Ruszkiewicz with his fellowship in an Oct. 27 ceremony.
"This fellowship is an extension of our ongoing collaboration with the university," Kerkove said. "It is made possible by a series of contributions from Hitachi High Technologies America and is now helping its fourth student perform cutting-edge research. Clemson's world-class Electron Microscopy Lab, with its eight Hitachi microscopes, continues to serve as an example for other institutions to follow."
Laxmikant Saraf, the lab's director, said Hitachi's investment underscores the company's commitment to working with Clemson.
"Hitachi High Technologies America is not only providing us services and top-of-the-line microscopes, but they're also funding our students with the fellowships," he said. "That stands out as a dedicated, sincere commitment."
The Electron Microscopy Lab is housed in the Advanced Materials Research Lab in Anderson County, about a 15-minute drive from Clemson's main campus.
Doug Griffith, Hitachi High Technologies America's southeastern sales manager, said that when other universities want to see how an electron microscopy lab should be set up, he shows them the one at Clemson.
"This lab has attracted the interest of top universities, from Harvard to Georgia Tech," he said. "The Electron Microscopy Lab at Clemson is a model for the rest of the country. It has been an honor to help this lab grow over the years. I credit the former vice president for research, Chris Przirembel, and the former lab director, Joan Hudson, for having the vision and foresight to start this lab."
Douglas Hirt, associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, congratulated Ruskiewicz on the fellowship.
"The amount of the award and his impressive credentials attest to the quality of research he is doing," Hirt said. "We are very grateful to Hitachi High Technologies America for supporting our outstanding graduate students."
Ruszkiewicz graduated with a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from Penn State Behrend, where a professor, John Roth, introduced him to the research.
Ruszkiewicz is now based at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research in Greenville. He is in the third year of his Ph.D. program and expects to graduate in May.
His previous honors include the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, the E. Wayne Kay Graduate Scholarship and the R.C. Edwards Fellowship.
Phil Bryson, vice president and general manager of the Nanotechnology Systems Division at Hitachi High Technologies America, said, "We are pleased to see Hitachi microscopes play an integral role in Brandt's research. The fellowship he is receiving is part of Hitachi's long, mutually beneficial collaboration with Clemson."
Tanju Karanfil, vice president for research at Clemson, said the collaboration with Hitachi has advanced both research and education at the University.
"Our long-standing relationship with Hitachi has provided Clemson faculty and students with one of the nation's premiere microscopy labs in which to learn and conduct research," Karanfil said. "Additionally, this fellowship has helped us recruit and train highly talented students."