The Factory

Since the 1950s, a 24,000-square-foot, off-campus research facility, located in the Fort Collins foothills, has endured dozens of renovations; the latest renovation transformed the facility into “The Factory.” Its diverse history has made it one of CSU’s most unique facilities, and its new name offers a glimpse into its inception in 1958.

The most recent renovations were initiated to provide research spaces for two new faculty members, Drs. Kaka Ma and Chris Weinberger, and as part of the development for the University’s newest interdisciplinary program, The School of Advanced Materials Discovery.

An image of the Factory today.

From 2002-2017, the facility was known as the Motorsport Engineering Research Center, or “The MERC,” to the CSU community. The center’s initial goal was to accommodate faculty and students involved in motorsport-related research, design, and development; however, with the economic downturn, the demand for motorsport engineering diminished, so the department diversified the facility in 2014.

Since 2004, the facility has also been home to the Composite Materials, Manufacture, and Structures research lab run by Dr. Donald Radford, and, more recently, the Advanced Materials Processing and Testing Lab, both of which continue to operate today. For many years, the Formula SAE Ram Racing team used the MERC to develop their racecars. Past FSAE president, and now ME alumnus and advisory board member, Adam Grabish, ’15, remembers his experiences there.

“The MERC was my home away from home for three years. FSAE was as much as part of the MERC as the MERC was a part of FSAE. I am the engineer I am today because of my time spent on the team, and I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything.” When Dr. Thomas Bradley joined the department in the fall of 2008, the EcoCAR program also operated at the MERC for a short time, along with other senior design activity from 2004-2014.

Dr. Kaka Ma’s new lab space.

The center also housed an assortment of state-of-the-art computational and advanced manufacturing equipment, and a wireless network that covered the majority of the 10- acre site – optimizing data transfer from racecars to laboratories. In addition to research, the adjoining MERC Annex included a conference and education center allowing for courses and training to take place.

In the 1960s, the 14,000-square-foot site was acquired by CSU, and, until 2002, was used for agricultural engineering research. Extensive renovations that took place during this time included the development of the annex, the building of a Food Extrusion Laboratory, the addition of meeting rooms and offices, the building of a machine shop, and, finally, the introduction of an indoor crop research lab. The AERC moved to the Agricultural Research, Development, and Education Center in 2002.

In 1958, the Silvaire Aircraft Factory built this facility to assemble 80 Luscombe Silvaire aircraft. At the time, this area of Fort Collins was envisioned as a technology park by J.D. Forney, a local businessman, who persuaded the Silvaire Company to locate in Fort Collins. This site was appealing for aircraft development due to its proximity to Christman Field, which allowed completed aircraft to be moved directly to the airport.

The Factory is an ever-changing piece of Fort Collins’ history that has made an impact at each stage of its existence. Its longevity has given it character and importance in the community, and we look forward to what the future holds for this research facility that has provided academic enrichment to engineering students for decades. If you are interested in touring this new space, contact Sona Srinarayana – – for more information.

Kota Research Group’s Superomniphobic Tape Drips with Potential

“We make coatings. We manipulate surfaces using different techniques to repel liquids,” said ME faculty member Dr. Arun Kota whose research in superomniphobic technology was recently published by the American Chemical Society. At first glance, it may seem simple, but the potential impact this technology could have on our world is extraordinary.

Pictured above is a roll of superomniphobic tape.

Superomniphobic surfaces are extremely repellent to all liquids, made possible by an air cushion that lies between a liquid and a solid surface.

With more than 10 years of research under his belt, Dr. Kota has made many significant breakthroughs in the field of super-repellent coatings including his latest discovery – a superomniphobic tape that if adhered to any surface, would give it liquid repelling properties. This product is similar in flexibility to Scotch Tape, but has the additional functionality of being repellent to virtually all liquids.

The concept of superomniphobic surfaces isn’t new. Researchers have been studying superomniphobic coatings since about 2007, and currently superomniphobic coatings can be sprayed, deposited or etched onto any surface for a similar effect; however, it must be done by an experienced professional and requires costly equipment. By contrast, a superomniphobic film can be used by anyone, making it a practical solution in a variety of fields.

Dr. Kota, his doctoral student, Hamed Vahabi, and his postdoctoral fellow Dr. Wei Wang developed this product and demonstrated applications where this technology could positively impact our world.

The challenges that lie ahead in this field are exciting yet puzzling. Many applications for superomniphobic coatings have already been outlined and include protective apparel for soldiers, surgeons, and firefighters, along with fingerprint-resistant surfaces, and more; however, coming up with a superomniphobic coating that is mechanically durable for these applications remains a major challenge.

What’s next for superomniphobic film? CSU has filed a patent on behalf of Dr. Kota, and sees tape and adhesive manufacturers as well as the packing industry having a strong interest in the product. Dr. Kota and his group will continue to research the mechanical durability of this impactful technology and we look forward to sharing their progress in the coming months.

National Science Foundation Next Generation Photovoltaics Center at CSU

Dr. W.S. Sampath, site director of the National Science Foundation Next Generation Photovoltaics Center at Colorado State University, has been working on advancing cadmium telluride (CdTe) Photovoltaics for more than 20 years at CSU. Along with Dr. Kurt Barth, the associate site director of the NGPV Center, the overall vision is to help establish PV electricity as a major source of energy in the United States and the world by leveraging cutting-edge research.

Many of of NGPV Center's CdTe research contributions led to First Solar's 290-megawatt power plant with CdTe PV (7.5 sq. mi.)

Many of of NGPV Center’s CdTe research contributions led to First Solar’s 290-megawatt power plant with CdTe PV (7.5 sq. mi.)

The demand for advanced PV technology is at an all-time high. The PV industry has consistently seen 40 percent growth each year for more than a decade, and it’s also becoming increasingly competitive with traditional electricity generation due to technology advances. Bloomberg recently reported that CdTe PV produces the lowest-priced electricity in the nation today; the prices have decreased 75 percent in the last four years and the trend is predicted to continue.

The NGPV Center is unique in PV research for a variety of reasons:

  • It’s a National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Center
  • The NGPV Center uses CdTe as a semiconductor as opposed to silicon-based semiconductors to extract solar energy. CdTe uses 100 times less semiconductor material that can be 100 times less pure than silicon. CdTe is less expensive to manufacture, readily available, safe, 100 percent recyclable, better performing, and is in general, a more effective material for this purpose.
  • The NGPV Center has helped to streamline the manufacturing process of solar panels. These advances have directly enabled CdTe PV to become the leading PV technology in the U.S.

The NGPV Center invites the industry to join its mission by becoming members. Contact Dr. W.S. Sampath if interested, With member support, the NGPV Center can build a more robust program and offer its members exclusive benefits such as providing direction for new research, encouraging close interactions with other PV industry leaders, awareness of new technologies and opportunities, IP arrangements, and more.

With a handful of partners, including First Solar, 5N Plus, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Loughborough University, Ion Edge Corp., and MBI Corp., the NGPV Center is well on its way to making PV electricity a major source of energy.

The New School of Advanced Materials Discovery

Colorado State University’s dynamic and extensive materials and manufacturing research is only magnified by today’s heightened interest in advanced materials solutions that significantly impact basic human needs such as energy, transportation, health, food distribution, and more. Engaging students in this expanding field through a new and exciting program is the shared vision of chemistry professor and director of CSU’s new School of Advanced Materials Discovery, Dr. Ellen Fisher, and a steering committee that includes mechanical engineering Department Head Sue James, and materials-focused, mechanical engineering Assistant Professor Troy Holland. The SAMD is on schedule to complete the final approval hurdles in the upcoming academic year and plans to admit only graduate students in fall 2016. The planned offerings include M.E., M.S., and Ph.D. programs in materials science and engineering.

The demand for this new program couldn’t have come at a better time. CSU has a strong cohort of faculty conducting materials and manufacturing research; at least 60 CSU faculty members have identified interests in materials research and education. In a recent faculty survey, nearly all expressed strong interest in the SAMD and in mentoring the SAMD students. Students were also surveyed, and a majority of undergraduates noted that they would consider this multidisciplinary graduate program, and the lion’s share of graduate students noted they “definitely” or “probably” would’ve been interested in the program when they applied to CSU. Industry partners have also shown interest in hiring CSU M.S.E. graduates. A majority of partners surveyed anticipate M.S.E. positions being available in the next five years.

There are currently 90 doctoral materials programs in the country, two of which reside in Colorado – the Colorado School of Mines, and the University of Colorado Boulder. Even so, the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain regions don’t offer a program with the SAMD’s focus. Distinct program elements include training in materials computational tools, additional hands-on training with materials instrumentation, specific instruction in materials intellectual property and technology transfer innovation, and professional development. The program will also offer students a composites manufacturing lab and the benefits of industry partnerships and internships. The program will focus on 11 research areas, including areas of current strength for CSU’s materials community such as soft materials, materials for energy and sustainability, nanomaterials, biomaterials, and composites.

Notably, materials and manufacturing research within the mechanical engineering department is advancing at a rapid pace. Dr. W.S. Sampath is making huge strides in the field of photovoltaics at one of CSU’s research facilities; Dr. Don Radford was recently selected for a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation grant for his research in fiber-reinforced wind turbines; and Dr. Troy Holland recently ramped up his research by initiating his own lab, the Advanced Materials Processing and Testing Lab. The advent of the SAMD initiative will undoubtedly further advance these efforts and raise the visibility of our materials researchers’ innovations.