UConn’s New Feminist Engineer Wants to 3D Print Electronics

After the University of Connecticut’s Pratt & Whitney Additive Manufacturing Innovation Center put out this hip video featuring dubstep and 3D printing, Leila Ladani left her post at the University of Alabama, where she created new materials and prototype parts for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, and said, “I want to be where the party’s at!” In reality, it may not have gone quite like that, but UConn’s new associate professor of mechanical engineering in the School of Engineering was drawn to the school for the types of machines featured in the video, saying,

UConn has two pieces of additive manufacturing equipment [Arcam electron beam melting machines] that are very rare and very expensive, and it soon will be getting additional high-end equipment that will allow us to fabricate different materials in a very unique way.  UConn has made a very large investment in this area and that is one of the reasons I came to UConn.

Ladani is an extremely accomplished engineer, specializing in nanomaterials, as well as micro- and nanoelectronics.  She holds two patents and has been a leading member of the ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers), a huge organization with over 130,000 members in more than 150 countries. In addition to conducting work for NASA, she’s performed research at the Office of Naval Research and the Air Force Research Institute and received funding through private funders and the National Science Foundation.

In utilizing UConn’s high-tech lab, the professor hopes to develop methods for 3D printing microelectronics. Such devices, which are essential for a huge range of applications, are usually constructed through a number of steps in which each electronic component is placed individually. Ladani hopes that, if she’s able to 3D print all of these components in a single step, she’ll lessen the errors that could go wrong in the manufacturing process. At the same time, it’s necessary to ensure that each micro-component can survive the printing process and that the final product accurately corresponds to its design.

To address these challenges, she brought with her three Ph.D. students from her office in Alabama and took on four female UConn undergrads to work in her Mechanics, Materials, and Manufacturing Lab, beginning last August. She’s a fierce advocate of women in STEM education. At her previous posts the University of Alabama and Utah State University, Ladani launched a peer group called WOMEN (short for “WOmen of Mechanical ENgineering”), where women in the academic community could address the difficulties of working in a male-dominated field, saying, “It’s not easy for females, students and faculty alike, because there are so few of us. Some people still think women are not built for engineering, and you constantly have to work against that mentality to prove that you are a good scientist.” And joking, “In my view, women seem to be doing it better. But then again, I’m biased.”  The professor plans on starting another branch of WOMEN at UConn, to continue her advocacy work.

Ladani has had a long journey to get to where she is: obtaining undergraduate degrees from both the Isfahan University of Technology in Iran and the University of Maryland in the United States, followed by a master’s degree in heat and fluid mechanics from the Isfahan University of Technology and a master’s degree in solid mechanics from the University of Maryland, and topped off with a Ph.D. in solid mechanics from the University of Maryland. Having undergone the process of climbing the engineering ladder, she understands how important it is to teach young girls that they are just as capable as boys in the world of STEM. As a female engineering professor, she does her part at the university level by mentoring female students, saying, “We need to do what we can for our students. It’s important. I would be happy to work with our female students, serve as their mentor, and let them know that if they have any problems they can come to me. I think that kind of activity and support encourages more female students to get into engineering, and that’s what we want.

Ladani’s role is an important one. With peer groups like WOMEN in existence at college campuses, underrepresented groups will have a safe place to support one another, share experiences, and advocate their needs against a sometimes indifferent majority. And with professors like Ladani to lead them, the majority will have no choice but to listen.

Source: Nanotechnology Now