Tech assistant professor receives $500K National Science Foundation CAREER Award 

COOKEVILLE – A Tennessee Tech University mechanical engineering technology associate professor has been awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation grant to research additive manufacturing of a high-temperature metal alloy capable of withstanding harsh environments such as rocket engines, high-temperature furnaces and electronic components.

DuckBong Kim, Ph.D., has received more than $500,000 for the NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award to further investigate the high-temperature alloy titanium-zirconium-molybdenum (TZM), which holds tremendous potential for the energy and space industries because of its exceptional strength, stability and high melting point. 

“As new technologies require new and more advanced materials, the field of computational materials engineering needs a paradigm shift from ‘apply the alloy you have’ to ‘engineer the alloy you need,’” said Kim. 

The ability to additively manufacture parts with high-temperature alloys provides more flexibility in customization, increases efficiency and helps lower costs for industry. Land-based power plants, for example, could replace current nickel-based parts with high-performance molybdenum alloy parts, resulting in increased efficiency and a reduction in their carbon footprints to make energy production more sustainable, according to Kim.

To conduct his research, Kim will integrate experiments with computational modeling, using a digital twin of the production process to identify the root causes of imperfections and develop the design rule. He will then share the data with the research and development community and industry. “The knowledge and methodology could be transformative for other additive manufacturing processes and other refractory alloys… and can provide foundations to other smart manufacturing processes,” he said. 

The NSF CAREER grant will also fund workforce development initiatives to equip Tech’s students with cutting-edge skills in emerging, technology-intensive additive manufacturing and data science. The award will facilitate undergraduate and graduate internships at national laboratories and create an initiative to provide hands-on STEM experiences to students in K-12 schools.

“Faculty who receive the NSF CAREER grants are poised to not only advance their fields, but also lead transformation in what students are learning, so that graduates of their program are at the forefront in the skills needed to solve the engineering problems of tomorrow,” said Joseph C. Slater, Dean of the College of Engineering. “For a field like advanced manufacturing, where technologies are rapidly changing, that’s extremely important.”

Today’s manufacturing environments are becoming highly optimized, highly integrated and very automated, involving robotics, data analytics and machine learning, according to Kim. “It’s important that our students learn these processes as the field is evolving so they are ready for smart-manufacturing environments,” he said.

Kim is a cross-disciplinary research scientist focused on advanced design and manufacturing engineering, specifically additive manufacturing (3D printing), wire+arc additive manufacturing (WAAM), sustainable manufacturing, smart manufacturing, data analytics and machine vision.  Prior to his appointment at Tech, Kim was a research associate at the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) in Maryland. He holds a doctorate from the School of Information and Mechatronics at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology, South Korea.

To learn more about Kim’s research programs and opportunities, visit the Smart Manufacturing & Data Analytics Group research at .

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