Connecting heat transfer, additive manufacturing motivates undergrad researcher

Mechanical engineering student Nicholas Evich begins his research journey through the support of the Shuman Scholars program


By Erin Cassidy Hendrick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As a senior majoring in mechanical engineering (ME) at Penn State, Nicholas Evich is confident in his ability as a researcher.

Thanks to the Shuman Scholar program, Evich has been exploring one of the discipline’s fundamental fields — heat transfer — by examining it at the cutting edge — additive manufacturing (AM).

“Over the past two years in the program, I’ve really gained a passion for research,” he said.

The Shuman Scholars are students in the ME department who have the opportunity to conduct a long-term research project during their undergraduate career. This opportunity for ME students has been funded through financial support provided by alumnus Clyde Shuman and his wife, Nancy.

“The Shuman Scholars program encourages some of our most talented undergraduate students to pursue research, which has been a major benefit for my research lab,” Matthew Rau, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and one of Evich’s advisers, said. “These students inject new ideas and creativity into their problems and allows us to pursue new ideas that we might not be able to explore within traditional projects.”

Evich’s work, conducted under Rau and Mary Frecker, professor of mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering, ultimately aims to improve the understanding of heat transfer through the development of additively manufactured, or 3D-printed, components.

“It’s an interdisciplinary project. We are combining simulations that are useful for modeling two-phase heat transfer with Dr. Rau and optimization tools in Dr. Frecker’s lab,” Evich said. “This hasn’t been done anywhere else for two-phase flows, so we’re exploring different routes to make these tools more accurate but not too time consuming to use.”

Two-phase heat transfer occurs when a fluid vaporizes to dissipate heat. An example of this would be a pot of boiling water; heat energy escapes through both the liquid and the bubbles that form on the surface.

“Under certain conditions, two-phase flows can be really good at transferring heat away,” he said.

However, the dynamics of these fluids pose a vastly more complicated problem when it comes to understanding and dispersing heat within a system, such as advanced electronics.

“These two-phase flows are found in technology like supercomputers and large servers,” Evich said. “One of the things holding back the development of these electronics is that they generate a ton of waste heat.”

To cool the machinery, thermal management systems are used, usually liquid- or air-cooled heat sinks and surrounding pipes of fluids that absorb the heat and cycle it away.

Evich is working toward the development of an automated design tool for these systems through metal AM, which he explained could provide innovative methods.

Currently, straight tubes are often used for simplicity. However, more efficient channels may be created with AM, like arc-shaped geometries such as linear splines and Bezier curves.

“That’s the motivation of this project,” he said. “How can we optimize additively manufactured components to take advantage of this?”

Evich is helping his advisers develop a computational tool that can more accurately model two-phase flows. In the future, he plans to experiment with additively manufactured components to gather data and compare it to the models. In the spring of 2020, he was able to design test parts and manufacture them at the Center for Innovative Materials Processing Through Direct Digital Deposition.

His work has been recognized in the field, by presenting his paper on the subject at the 2020 American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Summer Heat Transfer and through earning third place at the 2020 ASME International Mechanical Engineering Congress & Exposition Undergraduate Research Poster Contest.

Evich and his advisers are confident that through their exploration, they could discover findings that broaden the understanding of both heat transfer and AM.

“Our intent is to develop tools that would enable engineers to develop thermal management pieces that can be deployed in industry,” he said.

By making these research strides during his undergraduate career, Evich said he was more resolute than ever to continue on. This January, Evich began working toward a doctoral degree at Penn State.

“In the ME department, we have great research faculty and so many resources,” he said. “I think it will be a really great experience.”


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Nicholas Evich, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering at Penn State, pursued a long-term research project centered on heat transfer and additive manufacturing. IMAGE: PROVIDED BY NICHOLAS EVICH