Advanced Engineered Materials Center

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Advanced Engineered Materials Center

By Juan Pedraza

At the University of North Dakota Advanced Engineered Materials Center (AEM), scientists, engineers and students are pushing boundaries creating new materials for military and commercial use.

“Materials science is a truly interdisciplinary field, and we are very excited about this center because of the collaborations it encourages,” said Charles Smith, the AEM Center’s first permanent director. “It incorporates all kinds of engineering, physics, chemistry and other specialties. Besides creating new materials and new ways of dealing with traditional materials, this center also will help us broaden UND’s engineering curriculum with expertise we haven’t had here before.”

Core Research

  • Superfinishing Technology
  • Electroplating
  • Laser Materials Processing
  • Friction Stir Welding
  • Cold Spray Technology
  • Electrochemical Characterization
  • Materials & Surface Characterization
  • Mechanical Testing
  • Composites Manufacture & Structure/Properties

Originally dubbed the Engineered Surfaces Center, a moniker that reflected its early Army helicopter-related mission, today’s Advanced Engineered Materials Center embraces a much broader mission, according to Michael Mann, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Associate Dean for Research at the UND School of Engineering and Mines.

“Back then it had a fairly narrow set of problems to research specific to the Army,” Mann said. “The research we were doing at the Center, then, was related to helicopters: out in the desert, they were wearing at a rapid rate, and a big expense was repairing and replacing worn-out parts.

“Then we hired Dr. Smith, a chemical and materials science engineer from Guyana, as the director,” Mann said. “He started November 2010 and came to use with an excellent pedigree in academia, industry, and as an entrepreneur. He’d had broad experience developing projects into commercially viable products.”

Instead of a straight Congressional earmark, like in the past, the new AEM Center now is partially funded under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Army’s Benet Laboratories, a research, development and engineering facility located at the Watervliet Arsenal in upstate New York.

AEM Center researchers are working on lightweight materials that could be used to significantly reduce the weight of military tank-mounted guns, as well as a special epoxy that doesn’t freeze, for wind-turbine construction.

"Another very important component of our Advanced Engineered Materials Center is that it provides opportunities for a number of students to hands-on research,” said UND Engineering Dean Hesham El-Rewini said. “Right now we’ve got several students--both undergraduate and graduate--employed there on research projects.

“Also, many of the AEM Center researchers hold teaching appointments at School of Engineering and Mines so that they can share their expertise in the classroom with our students.”

For Ben Waldera, a graduate student in mechanical engineering from Woodbury, Minn., the experience at the AEM Center is key to his future career plans.

“I’m working with senior research engineer Dr. Samar Kalita on direct metal laser deposition,” Waldera said. It’s part of my master’s degree work. I’d like to keep going to and get a PhD.”

And for U.S. Army Capt. Sam Cowart, an alumnus of the UND Reserve Officer Training Corps program who went to high school in Minot, N.D., the research experience at the AEM Center is a core part of his military education.

“I’m doing a chemical engineering master’s, doing electro-plating research with Dr. Juergen Fischer, a senior research engineer here,” said Cowart, who’s an active duty field artillery officer. “The Army is sending me to graduate school so that I can teach at West Point.”

While Center researchers work with students and are signed up to teach classes, UND Engineering School faculty are encouraged to develop research projects at the Center, thus expanding the its utilization.


REAC 1 is a $16 million-plus, 50,000-square-foot secure research and development hub with a goal of increasing UND’s output of innovative patents and get them commercialized with corporate partners. It also signals the brick-and-mortar launch of the UND Research Foundation’s (UNDRF) Research Enterprise and Commercialization (REAC) Park, a place where high-tech businesses can set up shop, grow, and build production operations close by.

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