Zhiting Tian, assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering, has received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award to use multiscale thermal modeling to predict thermal transport properties and enable the creation of novel materials to push the extremes of heat conduction for numerous applications, including thermal energy conversion and management.

The five-year, $517,334 project will focus on thermal modeling of hierarchical structures spanning the nano-, meso-, and macro-scales, where hierarchical incorporation of physics-based models at different length scales is needed. Part of Tian’s research will be to validate the model with experiments and develop the analytical models for thermal engineers and heat transfer researchers.

“We want to understand how phonons, the energy unit associated with vibration, will travel in hierarchical structures,” said Tian, who is also a faculty member in the Macromolecules Innovation Institute. “There are established theories for this at the macroscale and a lot of progress has been made at the nanoscale, but in the middle, the mesoscale transport is not well understood.”

As part of the program, Tian will work with the Science Museum of Western Virginia, Virginia Tech’s Kid’s Tech University, and the Center for Enhancement of Engineering Diversity to develop outreach programs. The programs will encourage interest in thermal science and engineering and show how improving the efficiency of thermal conversion can contribute to global energy solutions. 

In addition to the CAREER award, Tian received the 2017 American Chemistry Society Petroleum Research Fund Doctoral New Investigator Award, the 2017 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award, and the 2017 College of Engineering Dean’s Award for Outstanding New Assistant Professor.