Professors Receive NIH Grant for Work on Superconducting Materials

June 1, 2018

Picture of three professors examining a strength testing machine

From left: John Voccio, Franz Rueckert, and Theodore Greene run a test in the Gelfand Strength of Materials Lab. (Photos by Greg Abazorius)

A group of professors at Wentworth Institute of Technology has been awarded a $350,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to test the strength of a new superconducting wire for potential use with high field magnets. 

John Voccio, assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering, is the principal investigator for the grant, issued under NIH’s Academic Research Enhancement Award program. The program supports meritorious research at primarily undergraduate universities, exposes undergraduates to hands-on research, and strengthens the research environment of schools that have not been major recipients of NIH funding. 

Voccio will be joined by two other Wentworth faculty members: Franz Rueckert, associate professor in the Department of Sciences, and Theodore Greene, associate professor in the Mechanical Engineering program, who will conduct parallel research on the processing of powder within the superconducting wire. 


High field superconducting magnets are used in such things as MRI machines, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometers, fusion reactors, and particle accelerators. The new superconducting wire is manufactured by Alexander Otto, a former colleague of Voccio and Greene at American Superconductor Corp. and now at a company called Solid Materials Systems. Otto developed an effective method of reinforcing the otherwise weak superconducting material for high field NMR magnets. 

Voccio used Instron tensile-testing machines in the Gelfand Strength of Materials Laboratory at Wentworth, a leading facility in the industry, to test the stress-strain characteristics of that material. 

In addition, at Barbour-Stockwell in Woburn, Mass., small test coils of the wire will be spun at speeds up to 100,000 rpm to re-create the stresses imposed by a high-field magnet. A senior capstone team will study the research with the goal of building the initial spin test coil this summer. The group includes five mechanical engineering students who will be graduating from Wentworth in August: Alex Bouthillette, Semuel Dacaj, Aidan Khoa-Anh Dang, Brian Bouchard, and Karim Hamady.

Rueckert will lead students in making superconducting material and developing an experimental test set-up in liquid and solid nitrogen, while Greene will perform material characterization, incorporating one of his specialties—scanning-electron microscopy.

Voccio said there are numerous opportunities for students to participate in the research on and off campus, at the two participating companies, and potentially the MIT Magnet Lab, which may be used for testing the new wire at liquid helium temperature.

--Dennis Nealon

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