Electrical Engineering Graduate Student Wins NSF Fellowship

By John Giardina

UConn electrical engineering graduate student Adam Cywar recently received an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.  He was one of just 2,000 master’s and doctoral students nationwide who were selected to receive the 2011 fellowships, each of which entails a $30,000 per year stipend and additional money for educational expenses.

Two recent UConn engineering graduates, Candice Pelligra (chemical engineering ’10) and Amber Black (materials science and engineering), were also selected.  Candice is pursuing her graduate studies at Yale University, and Amber now attends the Pennsylvania State University. Four others – electrical engineering student Christian Osorio, who will receive his B.S. degree in May 2011; mechanical engineering graduate students Caitlin Martin and Alex Cocco; and chemical engineering student Maura Koehle – received honorable mentions in the competition.

The NSF Fellowship will help to support Adam’s doctoral research program within the laboratory of Drs. Ali Gokirmak and Helena Silva.  There, Adam is researching a crystallization technique of silicon micro-structures by applying large electric currents. The large electric current heats and melts the silicon, allowing it to solidify as a perfect crystal when the current is removed. The motivation of this research is to achieve high performance electronics in display applications (HDTVs, cell-phone and computer screens) by crystallizing the silicon devices using this technique. During Adam’s research, he observed an exciting phenomenon in which a silicon micro-wire melts and solidifies in repeated cycles at a rate of 1 million times per second. Since silicon is much more conductive in liquid state than in solid state, repeated melting and solidifying of the silicon micro-wire results in an alternating current (AC) output for a direct current (DC) input.

Adam has been studying this phenomenon, phase-change oscillations in a silicon micro-wire, since he had initially observed it. He is designing an electronic oscillator (a device used to convert DC to AC) which operates based on this phenomenon, and he has applied for a U.S. patent. Since this device is based on a single silicon micro-wire, it can be implemented on a much smaller scale than the conventional electronic oscillators. Also, this device is already operating at a high temperature so it can function in environments with extreme temperature where conventional oscillators cannot operate, such as in jet engines or nuclear power plants.

Using the NSF support, Adam hopes to identify the limits of this discovery and its possible applications.  Read about previous NSF Graduate Research Fellowships awarded to UConn engineering students here.

Published: April 26, 2011