Penn State DuBois engineering student presents research on international stage

Penn State DuBois Engineering Student Nicolette Brossard examines properties of powder metal material under a scanning electronic microscope.

Penn State DuBois Engineering Student Nicolette Brossard examines properties of powder metal material under a scanning electronic microscope in the Penn State DuBois engineering labs. She has presented her research into innovation of powder metal parts used in the automotive industry at international conferences and industry seminars.

Credit: Steve Harmic

DuBOIS, PA. – While still in her fourth year of undergraduate studies in the Penn State DuBois engineering program, Nicolette Brossard has already completed research that has attracted international interest. With the Frenchville, Pennsylvania, native’s curriculum focused on applied materials, she has presented her work at both an international conference, and to members of an international powder metallurgy (PM) society.

Brossard was first selected to present her research on using copper-based alloys in automotive parts via Zoom at the 2021 POWDERMET conference in June. This international conference on powder metallurgy brings together professionals from every part of the industry, including buyers and suppliers of metal powders, manufacturing leaders, and more. On the merit of her research, Brossard was then asked to share her work during an exclusive meeting of the members of the American Powder Metallurgy Institute (APMI), an international, non-profit professional society which promotes the advancement of powder metallurgy and particulate materials as a science. According to APMI, its purpose is to disseminate and exchange information about PM and particulate materials through publications, conferences, and other activities of the society.

“I am pleased to see Nicolette’s presentation chosen for the APMI’s Talk ’N Technology presentations,” said Penn State DuBois Assistant Professor of Engineering Daudi Waryoba, who has mentored Brossard in the lab and the classroom. “The opportunity to present at such a large and international arena not only spotlights our campus and university, but also provides students the required exposure and interactions with industry experts around the world. This has also been a conduit for employment of our students. We have consistently been receiving employment offers from companies as far as Illinois and California simply because they like what they heard from our students in one of the POWDERMET conferences.”

Brossard dug into properties of powder metal during her research, experimenting with materials containing silicon, copper, and nickel, with the assistance of Waryoba and Lab Technician Glenn Rishel. Identifying components of the metal powder under a scanning electronic microscope in the Penn State DuBois engineering lab, she was able to track the durability and efficiency of a variety of material combinations.

Brossard summarized her work explaining discoveries about the properties of copper-based material best suited for automotive parts. She said, “Particles in different powders have different shapes.  Some are spherical, some are irregular. Analysis of how they behave can show that irregular shapes form stronger bonds, resulting in better characteristics.  Basically, rougher edges are better.”

Waryoba noted that a total of five students from the Penn State DuBois engineering programs presented at this year’s POWDERMET Conference, with Brossard among them.

Organizers of POWDERMET and members of APMI, Waryoba explained, have chosen to feature student work due to its real-world relevance in the industry. He said, “Nicolette’s research focused on the economical fabrication of copper-based powdered metal for automotive application. Roughly 75% of traditional PM parts production is for automotive applications which is heavily centered on iron-based PM parts. Unfortunately, there has been a decline in iron powder shipments for parts and vehicle sales. This is largely due to the growth of hybrids and electric vehicles, as well as the downsizing of engines and transmissions dictated by tight emission controls and regulations. Thus, for high powder density and efficiency, copper-based alloys are favorable due to their relatively high conductivity and low friction. These materials offer superior combination of strength, thermal conductivity, thermal expansion coefficient, wear and friction properties, fatigue limit and corrosion resistance.”

Not only have opportunities like this provided a first-hand look at what a career in engineering can entail, Brossard also demonstrates that such experiences have ignited enthusiasm in the field among students that they’ll carry into their professional lives.

“This was really fun, and a great opportunity,” Brossard said.  “It was great to be able to work with other students and faculty and to get my first real, hands-on experiences.  It was really exciting.

Following her graduation from Penn State DuBois, Brossard plans to enter graduate school and attain a master’s degree in engineering management, and hopes to continue to innovate new technology in a career in manufacturing.