Research Interests

William M. Chirdon, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering
University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Mission Statement

The mission of our research group is to provide bold and innovative solutions to contemporary engineering problems in the field of materials science.

General Research Interests

  My research interests have always been rather diverse and interdisciplinary, resulting in a broad, meandering research path. When I started at the University of Delaware, I had an interest in chemical engineering, especially as it applied to biological sciences. At that time, I had a strong belief that as our understanding of biological systems improved along with the power of computers, that engineering concepts would be increasingly applied to biological applications.

  As an undergraduate research assistant, I became fascinated with the use of polymers to develop biocompatible materials, which would drive me to that field for my graduate research at the University of Michigan, where I completed my combined Ph.D. in the fields of Biomaterials/Macromolecular Science and Engineering. My master’s work investigated the adsorption of catechol groups to help explain the adhesive success of the blue mussel so that bio-mimetic adhesives may be developed. My dissertation focused on the mechanisms for the difference in appearance of dental materials versus natural teeth. After my time in Ann Arbor, I served at Cornell University as a research assistant, where I edified fundamental skills for the finite-element modeling of heat generation and transfer in cementitious composites. Currently, the main thrust of my research efforts relate to the determination of transient thermal properties of reactive solids including thermal conductivity, heat capacity, thermal diffusivity, and intrinsic heat generation. My future plans include using this new methodology to determine the transient thermal properties of biological tissues. I also have an interest in the synthesis of polymers from biological feedstocks.

Specific Research Topics

Below you will find a brief description of my research work in reverse chronological order. I have decided to list some of my older projects, since any good research project always leaves some unanswered questions worth revisiting in addition to the results.

Determination of Transient Thermal Properties of Reactive Solids

  This project aims to develop a method for determining the transient thermal properties of reactive solids in presence of internal heat generation. The proposed method will determine the thermal properties as functions of time and temperature by monitoring the propagation of an imposed, low-amplitude thermal oscillation. This method is applicable to a variety of reactive systems, where heat generation complicates or skews the results from most contemporary methods used to determine their thermal properties. Currently, the research is targeted towards cementitious composites, such as portland cement mortars. However, future work will include the use of the device in biological tissues.

  Accurate thermal properties of fresh, hydrating concrete are necessary for thermal modeling of concrete, which can be used as a diagnostic tool in the design of structures, in the modeling of cracking, and in the prediction of concrete strength and depth for intelligence and surveillance operations. If the thermal properties of healthy and diseased tissues can be quantified and differentiated, an analogous device could be used as a diagnostic screening tool for cancer or to assess vitality and functionality.

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Remote Sensing of Concrete Structures

  The goal of this project, conducted at Cornell University with Dr. Wilkins Aquino and Dr. Ken Hover, was to inversely determine the depth and strength of a concrete structure strictly by using the surface temperature. One of the conclusions made was that the problem is likely to be ill-posed if the transient thermal properties remain unknown, which provided the impetus behind the aforementioned project. This project was an excellent exercise in the modeling of heat generation and transfer, and provided me with an opportunity to learn how to investigate engineering problems using finite element models constructed in ABAQUS.

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Goniochromism and Diffuse Reflectance of Aligned Composites vs. Natural Dentition

  This work was completed as part of my dissertation at the University of Michigan with Dr. Richard Robertson and Dr. William O’Brien. Among the central hypotheses is that teeth have a unique appearance due to its unique microstructure. Specifically, teeth are aligned composites that are composed of multiple layers (enamel, dentin, and pulp). These are proposed to be mechanisms that give teeth a unique diffuse reflectance and goniochromism (angle-dependent color) compared to other translucent materials. Furthermore, goniochromism is innately related to the perception of translucency, and the goniochromatic nature of a tooth must be replicated in order to produce a “life-like” appearance. The proposed mechanisms were validated by using short-fiber composites aligned by dielectrophoresis. The composites were also shown to exhibit Fraunhofer diffraction in thin sections in a manner similar to human enamel. In the future, this project may be revisited to investigate the goniochromatic nature of live, human teeth. The initial, unpublished data have shown that live teeth do have unique and interesting goniochromatic properties that are not found in most simple, translucent materials.

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Adsorption of Catechol and Comparative Solutes on Hydroxyapatite

  The blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) has an intriguing engineering skill: the ability to adhere to practically any surface underwater. To an adhesives scientist, this is a remarkable skill that has not been duplicated by synthetic adhesives. The objective of this research was to better understand the mechanism for adhesion, so that some day a bio-mimetic adhesive might be made. The central hypothesis of this work was that the characteristic catechol group on the L-dopa protein was at least partially responsible for the excellent adhesive properties in the mussel’s foot proteins. The catechol group adsorbed much more readily and energetically than other solutes containing functional groups such as amine, carboxylic acid, and phenol. However, catechol and pyrogallol had similar adsorptive properties, indicating that the two adjacent hydroxyl groups are critical for adsorptive mechanism. One hydroxyl group (phenol) does not adsorb well and adding a third hydroxyl group (pyrogallol) does not result in a significant improvement over the adsorption of the catechol group which has two adjacent hydroxyl groups.

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