Mechanical engineer awarded grant to investigate supercurrent phenomena in heat


PITTSBURGH, Pa. — The scientific advisory board of The Charles E. Kaufman Foundation has announced $2.1 million in grants for early-career and established scientists at Pennsylvania universities.

Linxiao Zhu, the John J. and Jean M. Brennan Clean Energy Early Career Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Penn State, earned one of five “New Investigator” grants, which provides $150,000 over two years. The grants aim to empower scientists at the beginning of their careers who seek to make a mark in their fields and address core principles in biology, physics and chemistry or across the disciplinary boundaries of these fields.

Zhu will use this funding to investigate how to create supercurrents in thermal transport. Electrical or mass currents move based on external bias, such as voltage or density gradient; however, there are supercurrents that exist and persist without external stimulus. According to Zhu, successfully developing an approach to developing thermal supercurrents that maintain heat flow even without a temperature gradient could open opportunities to explore new physics and could have important implications for harvesting renewable energy.

The fund was established in 2005 through a bequest from Charles E. Kaufman, who had a long career as a chemical engineer and later as an entrepreneur and investor. Upon his death in 2010, he left $43 million to the foundation, of which $33 million was directed to supporting fundamental scientific research in chemistry, biology and physics at Pennsylvania institutions. Including this year’s grantmaking, the foundation has awarded 81 grants totaling $16.6 million since 2013.

This cycle, the advisory board reviewed 121 inquiries from scientists at 23 colleges and universities and made 13 awards across Pennsylvania. In addition to Penn State, the latest awards will support research at the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, Washington and Jefferson College, Bucknell University, Drexel University, Swarthmore College, Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College.

 The full list of awarded research projects is available here.


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