Faculty Share Latest Research Over Lunch

Before Jörg Schumacher, a visiting professor from Technische Universität (TU) Ilmenau, could begin speaking of his work as a physicist, he needed to address another topic of great interest to his audience at the latest Tandon Faculty-to-Faculty event: Ilmenau’s obscure location on the map of Germany. Luckily, he had come prepared for just such a question, and one of his colorful slides showed the town to be located in Thuringia, some 85 miles north of Nuremberg.

He turned then to his area of research: turbulent convection, explaining that convection processes are ubiquitous and citing the examples of warm bodies in an airline cabin, the air conditioner system in a concert hall, or even the generation of magnetic fields in the Earth and Sun and the formation of clouds. Displaying a photo of a frying pan in which the heated oil formed a honeycomb-like pattern, he pointed to it as an example of Rayleigh-Bénard convection: the flow that occurs when a liquid is heated from below and cooled from above. “RBC is one of the most fundamental flow problems that we can study,” he asserted. “And it has applications in the fields of astrophysics, geophysics, and technology.”

Schumacher’s school, acknowledged as one of the region’s premiere institutions of higher learning, is the home of the “Barrel of Ilmenau,” one of the largest experimental facilities worldwide dedicated to investigating turbulent convection. Researchers fill the cylindrical barrel with air or water and set it into motion by heating it from the bottom and subjecting it to a cooling plate at the top. Because of the barrel’s massive size, the precision of the heating and cooling elements, and the use of cutting-edge measurement tools, Ilmenau is widely considered the best place in the world to study the topic.

While in New York, Schumacher will be collaborating on several exciting projects with researchers here, including Dean Katepalli Sreenivasan (a noted physicist in his own right).

The day’s second speaker was Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Ayaskanta Sahu, who heads his department’s Hybrid Nanomaterials Laboratory. Sahu, whose CV includes posts at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Molecular Foundry and at ETH Zurich, explained that his focus was on designing new nanomaterials, carefully engineering their structural, optical, electronic, thermal and thermoelectric properties for a variety of potential applications. This includes tools for the early detection of breast cancer and glaucoma, more efficient and sustainable methods of energy conversion, and even new fabrics that can heat or cool a wearer using their own emitted energy.

The novel hybrid nanostructures he and his team are creating have possible uses in a wide variety of areas, and he stressed to attendees that he welcomes ideas for collaboration. “Even if you have never thought much about nanoparticles,” he explained, “they could help open new avenues for exploration in your own fields.”