Portions of the following article were originally published on 2/12/24 by the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Article by Conner Allen and Sarah Preis

A group of students and scientists stands in front of a table at an expo.

From left to right: Ruku Borah, Shane Arlington, Megan Bokhoor, Michael Flickinger, and Tim Weihs.

Preetom (Ruku) Borah, a PhD candidate in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, earned a Student Presentation Award for his lecture in the Advances in Reactive Materials Engineering Symposium at the 2023 Materials Research Society (MRS) Fall Meeting & Exhibit, held in Boston, Massachusetts in late November.

Borah works in the lab of Tim Weihs, a professor of materials science and engineering and director of the Materials Science in Extreme Environments University Research Alliance (MSEE URA), where he focuses on approaches to counteracting chemical warfare agents (CWAs).

Borah’s winning presentation described key findings from experiments with diisopropyl methyl phosphonate (DIMP), a CWA simulant. In one study, he ignited a combination of metallic powders to diffuse the effects of DIMP. He found that by controlling the combustion of these powders in the presence of DIMP vapor, the simulant showed signs of decomposition, suggesting neutralization of the gas. The signs of neutralization point toward the possibility of alternate ways to diffuse chemical agents, he said.

Next, Borah plans to identify ways to control the decomposition of DIMP using various mixtures of aluminum, magnesium, and zirconium.

“The goal going forward is to see, now that we’ve demonstrated the capability to neutralize DIMP with one chemistry, how can we tune that decomposition?” says Borah. “The next step is to test multiple chemistries, seeing what’s going to improve or detract from that decomposition.”

Brandon Wagner, a graduate student at the University of California Riverside (UCR), also earned a Student Presentation Award at the MRS Fall Meeting. Wagner works with Michael Zachariah, distinguished professor of chemical engineering and material science at UCR and Research Area 2 Lead, and Lorenzo Mangolini, associate professor at UCR and principal investigator in RA2–FA2. Wagner’s presentation, “Tailoring Magnesium Nanoparticles In-Flight via Non-Thermal Plasma for Enhanced Ignition,” outlined his work improving ignition for reactive magnesium nanoparticles. He also spoke about a recent related paper, co-authored by fellow UCR student Minseok Kim, published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

Using a thermal evaporator and plasma reactor system, Wagner and his colleagues at UCR attempted to enhance the ignition performance of magnesium nanoparticles by coating them in silicon. The silicon layer inhibits the formation of magnesium oxides surrounding the magnesium particles as they burn, which typically hinders combustion.

Wagner and his team compared ignition temperatures and burn times of magnesium and coated magnesium particles. The coated particles ignited at a temperature roughly 220°C lower than the uncoated particles, and ignition was completed around 200 µs faster.

Wagner’s work, like Borah’s, is part of MSEE’s Research Area 2. “Our work has great collaborative potential with the other groups within RA2,” said Wagner. “We engineer new materials through our approach and analyze their ignition and combustion properties, while other groups can analyze their effectiveness as chemi- or biocidal energetic materials.”

Borah and Wagner were not the only MSEE participants to present at the 2023 MRS Fall Meeting. Collaborators from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, and other partner institutions also presented their work at the MRS Fall Meeting.