Vern Squier, president and CEO of the Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County; Andrew Goshe, global technical director at Morgan Advanced Materials; Neil Sharkey, Penn State vice president for research; Pete Raby, CEO at Morgan Advanced Materials; Phil Armstrong, CoE lead at Morgan Advanced Materials; and Nick Jones, Penn State executive vice president and provost, celebrate the opening of the Carbon Science Research Centre for Excellence with a ribbon‑cutting ceremony. Image: Invent Penn State
A few years ago, Morgan Advanced Materials was looking for a North American destination for its Carbon Science Centre of Excellence (CoE). The company, based in Berkshire, United Kingdom, is a global leader in materials science, using carbon, advanced ceramics and composites for a broad range of markets. As part of its strategy to solve difficult materials problems for its customers, Morgan established four CoEs to drive materials development. Through these CoEs, Morgan is able to develop materials that can work at higher temperatures, and higher pressures, in more corrosive and abrasive applications, at more precise tolerances and in smaller form factors, than ever before. After establishing CoEs that focused on insulating fiber; structural ceramics; and metals & joining, the company was searching for the ideal location for a CoE that would focus on carbon science.
The location they decided on had a strong pedigree. For starters, it’s known as the birthplace of carbon science, and continues to offer strong contributions in carbon today. Its research expertise surpasses that of any other university in the country; according to National Science Foundation rankings of Higher Education Research and Development (HERD) released in November 2019, this university ranks first in materials science and second in mechanical engineering and materials engineering. Its central location makes traveling to manufacturing hubs easy. And the cherry on top was that people really like living there. “It’s not hard to recruit here,” says Phil Armstrong, lead at the Carbon Science Centre of Excellence. “People want to raise their families here, buy houses here. The region is a big attractor.”
The location, as you’ve probably guessed, was Penn State. In November 2018, Morgan Advanced Materials opened the CoE in Innovation Park. And as their second anniversary in Happy Valley nears, Armstrong says that they are growing well. “We have a pretty big team,” he says. “And we’ve added to it. Growth was always a strategy and with Penn State, we’ve done that. We’ve collaborated on research projects with the university. Things are going well.”
One of the research projects Morgan is currently working on in collaboration with Penn State is a contract funded by the Manufacturing PA Innovation Program that researches manufacturing/wear optimization of resin-bonded composites with graphene nanofillers.
Graphene is a hot topic in carbon science. It’s a one-atom-thick layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. It’s a building block of graphite, but by itself, it has a multitude of properties that earns it the title of “wonder material.” At one atom thick, it’s the thinnest material known to man, about 200 times stronger than steel, and is an excellent conductor of electricity. It is light and flexible … and transparent. Possible uses abound – from batteries to transistors to DNA sequencing. Turning academic research of graphene into real life application is Morgan’s focus.
The firm is partnering with researchers at Penn State to understand optimal graphene types and characteristics, along with manufacturing methods to incorporate them in resin-bonded carbon composites used industrially in seals and bearings applications. Breakthroughs in graphene use could have a significant impact on a wide range of commercial products manufactured in Pennsylvania.
“Graphene can be used in seals and bearings to improve wear and friction performance,” Armstrong says. “These can be the bearings in your car – in your dishwasher – in your espresso machine. They can also be in big commercial things like a jet engine or a pump in a chemical plant.”
The research into commercial use of graphene is just one of many projects on which Morgan and Penn State are collaborating. “The general climate is really good for collaboration,” Armstrong says.
David Fecko at the Penn State Materials Research Institute in the Millennium Science Complex agrees. As the industry relations coordinator, he’s deeply involved with the confluence of campus research with industry in the area. He says that Morgan has been a great addition to “Materials Valley.” “I think we are off to an excellent start. Since Innovation Park is so close, it’s like Morgan is essentially on campus with us. There’s been a lot of interaction already between the materials community and Morgan.”
Morgan is also involved with the IUCRC (Industry University Cooperative Centers) network. Of the 70 IUCRC sites in the U.S., six are hosted at Penn State – nearly 10 percent. Of those six, four are related to materials. In one, ATOMIC (Center for Atomically Thin Multifunctional Coatings), Morgan’s Phil Armstrong serves as the advisory board chair. He and his team work intimately with the program and collaborators on campus, attending meetings and mentoring students, lending valuable industry insight to academic research.
The relationship is reciprocal. Morgan benefits from the state-of-the-art labs at the Millennium Science Complex, and has also added some valuable members to its team in its work with undergrads and grad students. “Almost half of our team has Penn State degrees,” Armstrong says. “We didn’t set out to do that, but it just happened. It’s been a great benefit from working with the university.”
Forging into a new year, this time amidst COVID-19’s sea of change, Morgan Advanced Materials CoE continues to make valuable materials connections between research, innovation and manufacturing in nearby plants in East Stroudsburg, Coudersport and St. Mary’s. “We’re a global group with a global business in places like the U.K., Italy and China, and it’s all supported by us here in State College.”