Clemson student receives $20K for research to boost vehicle efficiency

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Brandt Ruszkiewicz (left) works with another graduate student on one of Hitachi's microscopes at the Advanced Materials Research Laboratories. Photo by Clemson University.

Clemson University graduate student Brandt Ruszkiewicz has been named this year’s Hitachi High Technologies Fellow.

Ruszkiewicz, who is pursuing a doctorate in automotive engineering at Greenville’s Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research, will receive $20,000 to put toward his research to make cars lighter and more fuel-efficient.

“Brandt has incredible potential for technical and research leadership in a key economic area,” said Laine Mears, BMW SmartState chair in automotive manufacturing at Clemson University. “He is creative, competent, and excited to define and execute research. We need his input to make future lightweight vehicle designs realizable.”

Ruszkiewicz is the fourth Hitachi High Technologies Fellow since the program began in 2014. He uses Hitachi electron microscopes at Clemson to examine how 7000-series aluminum, the strongest type commercially available, reacts to electricity.

Automakers are using 5000- and 6000-series aluminum to make parts, but those parts could be slimmed down if they could be made with the 7000-series aluminum, according to Ruszkiewicz.

That would make for a lighter and more fuel-efficient car. But 7000-series aluminum is difficult to form, machine, and join to other parts, unless it is softened.

Researchers know that using electricity instead of heat from a furnace to soften aluminum has benefits, but they are unable to predict how the metal will respond to electricity. It could soften more than desired, and that gets to be a problem when thin sheets are stamped into auto parts, according to Ruszkiewicz.

“If it causes too much softening, aluminum will actually buckle, and you’ll get wrinkles in your part,” he said. “No one wants wrinkles on the outside of their car. We can’t quite predict its behavior yet. We don’t know exactly how the part will move or how it will react with electricity.”

Ruszkiewicz said the award gives him more financial freedom, allowing him to focus more on his research. He plans to put some of the money toward preparing specimens he will examine in the lab.

“I’ve got a lot more time to spend with these microscopes now,” he said. “I’m really excited to get through this work and see what we find. It’s an interesting opportunity, because there aren’t a lot of people who can use a microscope that zooms in 2 million times.”

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