Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) Professor Michael McHenry is a member of a team of researchers, including two MSE alumni, that will receive the Carnegie Science Award for Advanced Manufacturing and Materials, in recognition of their work on permeability engineering through strain annealing.

The future of energy depends on new technology at the materials level. Specifically, power transformation components need to be smaller, more efficient, and cheaper. To achieve this, a team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), and NASA Glenn Research Center have worked together to develop a novel manufacturing process to create electromagnetic cores that will revolutionize technological innovation for power electronic applications.

In recognition of this achievement, the team has been honored with the Carnegie Science Award for Advanced Manufacturing and Materials. The award recognizes McHenry, MSE alumni Paul Ohodnicki and Alex Leary (researchers at NETL and NASA Glenn respectively), Kevin Byerly of NETL, and Vladimir Keylin of NASA Glenn for their breakthrough process of permeability engineering through strain annealing.


Engineering the permeability, or tuning the magnetism, of an electromagnetic core is important for creating efficient metal components for electrical devices. The team’s process uses strain annealing, or heating soft magnetic amorphous metal ribbons under tension, to control nanocrystallization and the tuning of the material’s magnetic response. The process ultimately leads to a significant decrease in the size of power electronic components.

The team applied the process to cobalt-based metal amorphous nanocomposite (MANC) materials that boast the world’s largest response to permeability engineering. In the process, the metal ribbon is held under tension, and travels through a furnace heated to 500-600 degrees Celsius just before the final step of winding the ribbon into a tape-wound core. The researchers can optimize and tailor the core’s magnetic permeability by carefully choosing the alloy chemistry and applied tension of the ribbon. The process allows for spatial variation in the magnetic permeability—lowering high frequency losses in the cores to make them more energy efficient.

The impact of this technology is three-fold: it can reduce the size of the electromagnetic components without losing any power; it transforms energy without significant heating for better efficiency and reliability; and it has fewer processing steps resulting in lower production costs. Technology like this is needed to address the future of electricity production, transmission, and transformation, and will help revitalize the nation’s aging energy infrastructure and enhance electric vehicles. The team was awarded a patent on the technology in January.

It’s really a culmination of years of collaboration.

Michael McHenry, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering , Carnegie Mellon University

“The thing that’s most pleasing to me about this,” said McHenry, “is that it was work between myself, some of my alums, and other long-time collaborators. It’s really a culmination of years of collaboration. It’s a recent development, but something that wouldn’t have happened if this group of people hadn’t developed this level of trust among one another.”

Ryan Sullivan, associate professor of mechanical engineering and chemistry, was also recognized with an honorable mention for the Environmental award category. Sullivan is a faculty member in the Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies and investigates important physicochemical particle properties using custom single-particle instruments. These instruments allow him to rapidly characterize atmospheric aerosols in real-time, one particle after another. He is also developing improved analytical methods to measure individual particles using laser ablation mass spectrometry and laser spectroscopy.

All awardees will be recognized at the 23rd annual Carnegie Science Awards celebration on Friday, May 10, 2019 at the Carnegie Science Center. Two other members of the Carnegie Mellon community will also be recognized at the event. Eric Xing, a professor of computer science will receive the Start-Up Entrepreneur award in recognition of his achievements as co-founder, CEO, and chief scientist of Petuum. Patricia DeMarco, a visiting researcher in the department of chemistry, will receive the Environmental award.