Friday, June 22, 2012

From Mathematics to Materials to Fuel Cells

From Mathematics to Materials to Fuel Cells
By Steven Powell, Science and Technologies Correspondent, University of South Carolina

                             Dr. Kenneth Reifsnider receives award from University first lady Patricia Moore-Pastides. 

Ken Reifsnider's bachelor's degree in mathematics has helped drive the course of a professional career that began with a doctorate from Johns Hopkins in metallurgy and solid mechanics.

"For some years, I was heavier into the mechanical side of things," he said. "One reason is that I was looking for mathematical rigor, and to be completely frank, for thirty years after I graduated there wasn't a great deal of it in the materials community. It was all about what kind of magic dust you could find this week, and what it could do."

With the development of better analytical methods, Reifsnider broadened his research beyond mechanics by preparing fuel cells for NASA in 1989. In 2008 he came to USC to create the Solid Oxide Fuel Cell program.

In just those four-and-a-half years, he's brought in more than $25 million in outside funding as a principal or co-principal investigator. Publishing more than 25 research articles in the same period helped garner the 2012 Russell Research Award in Science, Mathematics and Engineering.

Established by Judge Donald S. Russell in 1957 to recognize faculty for outstanding research and scholarship, the Russell Research Award was given annually to one scholar from 1957 to 1965, and to two scholars since 1966 (one for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering, and one for Humanities and Social Sciences). Reifsnider received a $3,000 prize and was recognized at a ceremony in the Hollings library on April 25.

But a mathematics background notwithstanding, it's not just about the numbers for him. "I like very much to build things, and I care very much about young faculty members," Reifsnider said.

"The opportunity I was given was probably unique in the United States. I find it remarkable that the university is still maintaining an initiative that involves adding faculty members, building buildings, and creating new research groups across the university."

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