John Smith Joins UM MSE faculty

John Smith Joins UM MSE faculty

Research Professor John Smith

John R. Smith has joined the Department of Materials Science and Engineering as a new member of its faculty. 

Smith earned his PhD in physics from The Ohio State University and conducted postdoctoral research in physics at the University of California, San Diego, with chemistry Nobel Laureate Walter Kohn. 

Smith worked for General Motors Research Laboratories as a research scientist for nearly 28 years. For seven of those years, he also served as an adjunct professor in the U-M Department of Physics. At GM, Smith’s work focused on developing new materials as well as the theory and simulation of material properties. He continued to develop and apply density functional methods, work he began with Professor Kohn. Smith led the Surface Physics and Solid State Physics groups at GM and directed the Engineered Surfaces Program. He then spent six years at Delphi Research Labs as head of the Manufacturing Processes Research Department. 

Smith’s research has focused on the computer simulation and theory of solid surfaces and interfaces, particularly adhesion and chemisorption. He has done substantial research on coatings development for manufacturing, including thermal barrier coatings for jet engine rotor blades for the U.S. Navy and Air Force. During this multi-institutional collaboration, Smith worked with MSE Professor Tresa Pollock and David Srolovitz, formerly with the Department.

Recently Smith has been working to develop a new water splitting process to convert solar energy into hydrogen fuel. Because of the intermittent nature of solar radiation, storing solar energy as a fuel is desirable in order to meet consumer demand. The process entails using a nanopowder catalyst in the presence of sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. The hydrogen can be stored as a fuel and then recombined with oxygen to release energy as needed--for example, to create steam for a turbine to generate electricity. The only combustion product is water; no greenhouse gases are released, and no hydrocarbon fuels are involved. 

As a Research Professor in MSE, Smith plans to continue to refine his thermal photocatalytic water splitting process, and he is looking forward to working further with MSE faculty. He is particularly enthusiastic about working alongside colleagues he became acquainted with earlier in his career. “I’ve come to know a number of U-M faculty over the years, and I’m most excited to have the opportunity to collaborate with members of this fine department,” he said.