School of Engineering Prof Earns Brinkman Grant
“The research in the area of micro/nano manufacturing is, essentially, making things with very small features,” assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering Sriharsha Srinivas Sundarram, PhD, explained calmly in his light-filled office, which is next to the Material Characterization Lab that the Alden Trust and the Brinkman Foundation jointly supported creating two years ago.
Recently, he’s been named the recipient of an additional grant from The Earl E. and Hildagunda A. Brinkman Private Charitable Foundation to continue his innovative research work with Fairfield students.
The Brinkman Foundation, based in Rochester, NY, has been a longstanding supporter of the School of Engineering (SOE). In August 2016, the Foundation announced a $78,000 grant to the University — $70,000 to support the School of Engineering and $8,000 to support the research of Shannon Harding, PhD, in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Of the funding awarded to the SOE, $15,000 was dedicated solely to Dr. Sundarram’s enhanced professorship for this year. Dr. Sundarram was selected because of his pioneering research in the areas of micro/nano manufacturing and his strong commitment to incorporating students into all aspects of his work.
Dr. Sundarram offered a kind analogy for those unfamiliar with the process of micro/nano engineering research: “So, think of it like taking a big box and rather than fill it with one big basketball, we are trying to fill it with maybe a hundred or two hundred Ping-Pong balls.”
Even for a layman, the Ping-Pong ball analogy can get confusing. But, Dr. Sundarram continued to explain that the work he’s doing with both undergraduate and graduate students focuses on making nickel foams to create tiny, efficient batteries and on building artificial tissue outside the human body for drug testing. And, he said, it is the type of high-level research that is par for the course at much larger universities and Fairfield’s ability for such research that led him here.
“I chose Fairfield because of all the facilities they had in place, which are those of a much larger school and because there’s good cross-collaboration between faculty, which is not always possible at a larger school,” Dr. Sundarram said.
Dr. Sundarram came to Fairfield two years ago from St. Cloud State University, Minn. And prior to that he was at the University of Texas at Austin where he received his PhD in Mechanical Engineering and was an instructor for about three years.
He was also recognized by the Brinkman Foundation because of his efforts to foster relationships with regional manufacturers to craft opportunities for Fairfield engineering students to pursue applied research and innovation in local CT manufacturing.
Of Dr. Sundarram’s work involving students, he says, it’s one of the best ways to prepare them for the field and “gives them a feel for the future.”
“It’s essential for any student to have research experience because it’s an extension of what we’re doing in the classroom,” Dr. Sundarram said.
This spring, he worked with a group of students on publishing graded nickel foams research in the journal Manufacturing Letters. For the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Conference this year, he presented with Fairfield students on the laser foaming of polymers and presenting with students again next year is a top goal.
Additionally, at the upcoming ASME conference in Phoenix, Ariz., Dr. Sundarram has been asked to give an “early career mini-talk,” for which he’s presenting on effective listening skills.
“We have to prepare our students to be good communicators for broad audiences — both technical and non-technical,” Dr. Sundarram said of the way he places emphasis on listening, focus, process and technical writing in his classroom.
Dr. Sundarram said he has been impressed with Fairfield students and enjoys being involved in other areas of campus life as well — he’s volunteered with both the Center for Academic Excellence and the Indian Graduate Student Association.
On becoming a professor, Dr. Sundarram said even from a very young age growing up Chennai, on the Bay of Bengal in southern India, and inspired by his grandfather who would teach him mathematics at home, he knew he wanted to go into education.
“As an engineer – especially as an engineering professor – giving back to society by training future engineers to help solve society’s greatest problems is where I get the most satisfaction.”
Top left: Students Vinicius Zandardi '16 and David Jose '16 in the new Materials Lab with Dr. Sriharsha Sundarram (standing).
Right: From the recent Brinkman Foundation visit to Fairfield (l-r) Dr. Sundarram, Dr. Etemad, and Eleanor “Ellie” Hawthorne, Trustee of the Brinkman Foundation.