Materials research is always exciting because it's constantly evolving and changing. There's always a desire to look for something better.

Mala Sharma

Researching nanostructured materials, cold-spray manufacturing and nickel-hydride batteries doesn't interfere with Professor Mala Sharma's love of teaching, especially her potentially intimidating course on Dynamics: Mechanics of Motion.

It's her favorite course as a professor for two reasons. First is that her "geek" side loves the content from beginning to end. "The class encompasses complex topics related to everyday occurrences like the impact between two cars and why a figure skater pulls her arms in during a spin," she says. Second, as an undergraduate, she and other engineering students had "very anxious and negative feelings about this course. I wanted a different experience for my students."

Based on student feedback, she's succeeded. Bucknell undergraduates say the course is challenging but they "enjoy taking it from me because I was clear and organized in the classroom. I would teach the course every semester if I could."

Outside of the classroom, Sharma, who explores new material systems, analyzes properties of materials that have been processed in different ways. In the past decade, she has focused on defense vehicle applications using cold-spray manufacturing, a process that uses inert gas to accelerate metal powders to supersonic speed, building them up on a substrate to create a coating. This technology can also be used to make "precise bulk parts" in a manner similar to 3-D printing.

Sharma is also at work developing amorphous anodes in nickel–metal hydride batteries, which can be used in anything from medical instruments to automotive batteries to mobile phones. Her goal is to create a rechargeable battery that is more energy efficient and cheaper to manufacture.

"Materials research is always exciting because it's constantly evolving and changing," she says. "There's always a desire to look for something better," from both an environmental and performance standpoint.

Posted Sept. 22, 2017