Materials Man

ARC's new associate director sees a wealth of opportunity for bringing applied research to the martketplace

Pass a laser light over a juice box and it can suddenly become impervious to microbes. Use the tool on a fabric and its colors become more intense.

For Michael Kelley, lasers will be instrumental in developing the next generation of advanced materials used in everyday life, while facilities like the Applied Research Center (ARC) will be the primary avenues through which such technology is brought to the marketplace.

As the new associate director of the ARC in Newport News and a professor of applied science at the College, Kelley sees great potential for the one-year-old research and development facility.

Having spent time in both industry and academia, Kelley excels at marrying basic and applied research. He arrived at the College in January after 26 years at DuPont's Central Science and Engineering Laboratories working on polymer and material interactions, surface processing and modification by light. At the same time, he was an off-campus faculty member of the University of Delaware's chemical engineering department.

Kelley's goal for the ARC and that of its director, Dennis Manos, is to market the center's capabilities and to transfer the new technologies developed there to the marketplace.

"Until the last few years, many scientists have concentrated only on the research," Kelley said. "But we also need to promote the development aspect. That way we can understand the economics as well as the science and see our research come to life as affordable, marketable products."

Before coming to the ARC, Kelley focused much of his research on applications of the high-powered, short wavelength light or excimer laser, a tool that is already being used for laser eye surgery and the manufacture of integrated circuits.

The scientist will soon turn his sights to the Free Electron Laser (FEL) at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility to explore additional ways of manufacturing a host of advanced materials inexpensively. Besides making surfaces antimicrobial or specially textured, the FEL, the world's highest tunable source of infrared laser light, could also be used for micromachining and laser coating.

"I'd like to be able to use the discoveries we're making in fundamental research and for practical applications," Kelley said. "I don't want the fruit of my career to be only a stack of yellowing [research] papers."

For Kelley, who spent many years working collaboratively with Jefferson Lab and William and Mary before assuming his new position, partnerships form the foundation of the ARC. He emphasizes the importance of alliances that have been forged among Jefferson Lab, NASA Langley Research Center and ARC's university partners-William and Mary and Old Dominion, Norfolk State and Christopher Newport (CNU) Universities.

Kelley said that he is working to develop similar partnerships at William and Mary among applied science and the chemistry, physics and geology departments. Among his goals are to adapt a course in materials processing that he taught at the University of Delaware and to build an interdisciplinary program in environmental remediation involving faculty from the College, CNU and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

As the ARC develops, Kelley hopes to involve more students, especially undergraduates, in research at the facility.

"I have seen tremendous quality in the undergraduate population at William and Mary," said Kelley. "But they are hindered by a lack of time for research, unlike those in the graduate program. We would like to be able to structure our programs so that they could be used for both undergraduates and grad students."

He added, "I ask myself, 'Where could new technology significantly improve business performance?' There are all kinds of ways to deploy technology, and we can drive the research in that direction."