COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster is honoring a Clemson University researcher who has quickly become a leader in the technology behind composite materials, part of a fast-growing industry that has brought South Carolina thousands of new jobs and investment in the billions of dollars.

Srikanth Pilla, the Jenkins Professor of Automotive Engineering and dean’s faculty fellow, is this year’s recipient of the Young Scientist Award for Excellence in Scientific Research. He is based in Greenville at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research.

Srikanth Pilla

Pilla specializes in creating lightweight and sustainable composite materials and finding ways to use them in manufacturing.

Composite materials are developed to have advantages over more conventional materials. Some, for example, are lighter yet stronger than steel, reducing the weight of cars and airplanes to improve fuel efficiency.

The advanced materials industry, which includes composite materials, has brought 8,055 jobs and $4 billion in capital investment to the state since 2011, according to the state Department of Commerce.

Pilla works closely with industry in his research, and one of his latest projects is expected to strengthen those ties. The Clemson Composites Center, where he is founding director, received $1.5-million in funding from the state Department of Commerce and has drawn the interest of the automotive, aerospace and sustainable energy industries.

Pilla accepted his Young Scientist award Wednesday at the Statehouse in Columbia.

Don Jordan, Gov. Henry McMaster, Srikanth Pilla and Dean Anand Gramopadhye stand together for a photo.

Srikanth Pilla, second from right, received his award Wednesday from Gov. Henry McMaster, second from the left.
Image Credit: Courtesy photo

The award is presented under the joint sponsorship of the Governor’s Office and the South Carolina Academy of Science. It is directed each year “to a gifted young researcher who has demonstrated the potential for major contributions to his or her discipline,” according to the academy’s website.

“South Carolina has many excellent, young scientists, and it is an honor to be mentioned among them,” Pilla said. “I’d like to thank all those who have supported me along the way and those who nominated me for this award.”

Pilla has been awarded about $11.5 million in research funding in the four years he has been at Clemson. His research interests range from the fundamental science behind composite materials to applying the science in real-world manufacturing.

Pilla has co-authored more than 100 widely cited, peer-reviewed archival publications and more than 150 technical presentations, reports and scientific articles. He is highly active in several plastics, composites and automotive professional societies and several have honored him with awards for his extraordinary efforts in research and engineering education.

Pilla’s research is cross-disciplinary, bringing together polymer chemistry, polymer physics, energy resources, materials engineering, manufacturing science and computational theories. He has a joint appointment with Clemson’s materials science and engineering department.

Colleagues said Pilla is an innovator in the classroom. He has redesigned courses and developed cross-disciplinary materials to support courses in manufacturing, materials and polymers. He has also conducted outreach to the K-12 system and technical colleges and has advanced workforce training through corporate learning.

Zoran Filipi, chair of the automotive engineering department at Clemson, said that Pilla represents the best South Carolina has to offer.

“If Dr. Pilla continues his current trajectory, his accomplishments will have a profound impact on South Carolina,” Filipi said. “He is an exceptional and gifted young scientist with the ability to deeply explore a scientific problem and translate the solutions into industrial applications.”

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, congratulated Pilla on his award.

“Dr. Pilla is an outstanding scholar and teacher,” Gramopadhye said. “The innovative research he is conducting supports industry in a fast-growing sector of the state’s economy. His award is a testament to the large impact he has had in a short period.”