CLEMSON — A highly accomplished doctoral candidate who has been described as relentless in the lab and has studied under a high-ranking engineer in India’s Department of Science and Technology is the recipient of a fellowship that pays for a full year of graduate school at Clemson University.

Monsur Islam, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, received $20,000 as the winner of the Hitachi High Technologies America Electron Microscopy Annual Fellowship.

Monsur Islam works at one of the Hitachi microscopes that helps make his research possible.

Monsur Islam works at one of the Hitachi microscopes that helps make his research possible.

“I am really, really excited,” Islam said. “I have been trying for this for the last three years, and I finally won. I’m really happy.”

Islam is using renewable resources instead of coal and petroleum to create carbides that are important for products ranging from surgical tools and jewelry to hot-gas filters and shock absorbers.

Since 2014, Islam has been the main author on five original research papers and served as co-author on four others. The journals that have carried his work include Microfluidics, Nanofluidics and Biomicrofluidics.

The Hitachi microscopes Islam uses allow him to examine the properties of the carbides he creates. He can see critical elements that are invisible to the naked eye, such as porosity, composition and grain size. Islam can then make adjustments to the mix of raw materials that go into the carbide.

To be eligible for the fellowship, recipients must use Hitachi’s super-magnifying microscopes in their research.

The Hitachi microscopes are in Clemson’s Electron Microscopy Lab. The lab, which houses some of the world’s most cutting-edge microscopes, has been hailed as a national model. Officials from Georgia Tech and Harvard University have visited campus to see it..

Congratulations for Islam came from across Clemson and Hitachi, including from Phil Bryson, vice president and general manager of the Nanotechnology Systems Division at Hitachi High Technologies America.

“We are pleased to see that Hitachi microscopes have played an integral role in Monsur Islam’s research,” Bryson said. “The fellowship he is receiving is part of Hitachi’s long, mutually beneficial collaboration with Clemson.”

Carbides marry carbon and metal, often tungsten, to create an alloy that is stronger than steel and resistant to heat and wear. The carbon source in industry is often coal or petroleum.

Instead Islam is using renewable bio-polymers, including chitin from shrimp shells, cellulose from plants and carrageenan, which is a common food thickener. He creates powders, mixes them with a tungsten precursor and heats them to get carbide. The bio-polymer mix that results is a paste.

As part of his research, Islam is studying the use of 3D printing to shape complex structures that can derive in carbides. His manufacturing toolkit also includes origami. Islam folds cellulosic paper into various shapes and dips it in a metal precursor.

“You will then get carbide folds of great complexity and very thin cross sections,” he said.

Rodrigo Martinez-Duarte, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is Islam’s advisor and recommended him for the fellowship, calling him relentless in the lab, proactive, hardworking, humble, sincere and compassionate.

“Mr. Islam’s excellent work ethic paired with the state-of-the-art facilities at the Electron Microscopy Lab will be a fruitful combination to raise the research profile of Clemson University in the development of sustainable materials,” Martinez-Duarte said.

When Islam was a research associate at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur in 2013, his advisor was Ashutosh Sharma. The highly decorated chemical engineer, who was a professor at the institute, is now the secretary of India’s Department of Science and Technology.

Martinez-Duarte was also a visiting researcher in the same lab in 2006 when he was a graduate student at the University of California, Irvine.

Islam is the third recipient of the Hitachi fellowship since its inception in 2014. Zhaoxi Chen and Yungsong Zhao were the previous recipients.

The Electron Microscopy Lab is housed at the Advanced Materials Research Lab in Anderson about 15 minutes from Clemson’s main campus.

The microscopes allow researchers to manipulate the samples at the nano level. For example, using the microscopes, Islam is able to measure carbide grains as small as 25 nanometers.

“In perspective, the average width of a human hair is 100 micrometers,” Martinez-Duarte said. “One micrometer equals 1,000 nanometers. Hence, if one were to line up these carbide grains in a row to span the diameter of a hair, this line will feature 4,000 grains.”

The floors under the microscopes are concrete isolation pads that go down 26 feet to cancel vibration and acoustic noise.

Laxmikant Saraf, director of the Electron Microscopy Laboratory, said the microscopes are an attractive option for Clemson researchers.

“One of the nation’s premiere microscopy facilities is right here at Clemson,” Saraf said. “It’s an ideal option for Clemson faculty and students to advance their research. Wait times are minimal, and we have experts with a wide range of capabilities.”

The lab is open to industrial collaborators also.

All eight of the lab’s electron microscopes are made by Hitachi High-Technologies Corp. in Japan. Another Hitachi electron microscope is in Jordan Hall on Clemson’s main campus, and one is located at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in North Charleston.

Tanju Karanfil, vice president for research at Clemson, said the Electron Microscopy Lab plays a key role in supporting research at the university.

“Hitachi’s microscopes provide our faculty and students capabilities that are second to none,” Karanfil said. “Further, the fellowship that Hitachi has provided helps Clemson recruit and retain top students. We value and appreciate our collaboration.”

Doug Griffith, the southeastern sales manager for Hitachi High Technologies America, has helped the lab grow since its inception.

“When other universities want to know how to build a world-class microscopy lab, I take them to Clemson,” Griffith said. “Clemson and Hitachi have been working together since Chris Przirembel and Joan Hudson had the vision that led to the lab. Working together, we have built a model for the rest of the nation to follow.”

Islam received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Bengal Engineering and Science University in Shibpur, India (now the Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology, Shibpur).

He has been a research associate and summer research fellow at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur and an undergraduate exchange scholar at the University of California, Irvine.

Douglas Hirt, associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, congratulated Islam on the fellowship.

“His research record and productivity are outstanding for someone rising through a Ph.D. program,” Hirt said. “The fellowship is an honor that is highly deserved.”

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