CAREER Program is NSF's most prestigious award in support of early-career faculty
Wednesday, March 8, 2023

A University of Iowa engineering professor has received the prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award to advance research of ceramic additive manufacturing, which could benefit industries, including health care, defense, and energy. 

Xuan Song, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering, is studying the use of water-based ink to fuse ceramic particles in the additive manufacturing process. Additive manufacturing is commonly referred to as 3D printing.  

“Winning the CAREER Award is a great recognition of my research and education efforts in ceramic additive manufacturing in the past years,” said Song, who is also a faculty affiliate of the Iowa Technology Institute and directs the Additive Manufacturing Research Lab. 

“It will allow my lab to further mature our patent-pending additive manufacturing technology towards commercialization and enable us to promote advanced manufacturing to younger generations, in particular underrepresented groups.” 

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is NSF’s most prestigious award in support of early-career faculty who have the “potential to serve as academic role models in research and education.”  

Additive manufacturing offers great potential to create complex ceramics used in specialty applications, including thermal insulators, armors, implants, and sensors. 

Compared to traditional manufacturing methods, additive manufacturing can be more efficient, enhance design freedom, and enable superior properties. 

However, additive manufacturing of complex ceramic parts on an industrial scale has been challenging due to issues such as cracking and carbon contamination.   

Song believes the use of water-based ink holds promise. This ingredient followed by compression and a mild heating process would eliminate the need for an organic binder, which has led to many of the known problems.  

Through the five-year CAREER Award, Song will fine tune the theory by studying numerous variations and aspects of the process.  

If successful, this process will enable complex thick-walled ceramic component manufacturing on a commercial scale and help accelerate wider adoption of ceramic additive manufacturing in many industries. 

“This research is expected to establish new manufacturing capabilities that can create complex industry-level ceramic products with novel design and unprecedented properties, such as sonar transducers, bioceramic implants, space engine, and construction structures, and will significantly reduce the production time,” Song said. “It will also significantly reduce energy consumption and avoid hydrocarbon and greenhouse gas emissions in ceramic additive manufacturing.” 

The award will also have an educational component, including “Print-in-the-Dark-Side” for students with vision impairment, “Ceramic Art 3D Printing” for K-12 students, and cross-discipline ceramic printing initiatives for undergraduate students. 

Learn more about the award