MSU mechanical engineering professor receives CAREER grant for atomic modeling research

Contact: James Carskadon

Studio portrait by Doyl "ted" thick
Doyl E. Dickel (photo by Megan Bean)

STARKVILLE, Mississippi – A Mississippi State faculty member at the university’s Bagley College of Engineering is using a prestigious National Science Foundation award to advance his research on the magnetic properties of iron and cobalt, key elements in modern technology and steelmaking.

Doyl E. “Ted” Dickel, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, receives the NSF Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, which provides a $682,571 grant to support his research. Dickel is developing machine learning models that can account for the magnetic properties of iron and cobalt when modeling potential materials for use in objects such as electric motors and steel.

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“The traditional way of improving steel has been to cast a number of different grades of steel under different conditions and see which performs the best,” Dickel said. “It works, but it is very slow and expensive. If you have a good model, you can predict how different elements affect steel properties much faster and at a much lower cost. Because iron is magnetic, it has been difficult to develop a predictive model at the atomic level. Magnetism adds additional complexity to how your material works and behaves.

“If we can get iron and all of its magnetic properties right in the models, we can improve the steel we make and the way we make magnets, which would impact things like electric motors in vehicles and other technologies.” If we can improve the iron-based materials used, it would reduce reliance on imported rare earth minerals.”

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Dickel joined the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering in 2020. He previously worked as a postdoctoral associate and assistant research professor at MSU’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from the California Institute of Technology and a doctorate in physics from Clemson University.

Dickel said the available resources from CAVS and MSU’s High Performance Computing Collaboratory, which houses one of US science’s most powerful supercomputers, helped advance his materials research.

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“The high-performance computing facilities are amazing for the work we need to do,” said Dickel. “I’ve also had great support from [CAVS Executive Director] Clay Walden and [Mechanical Engineering Department Head] Haitham El Kadiri, who has prioritized mentoring of young talent and assisting in drafting proposals. Because we have been working on these issues over the past few years, we have had great infrastructure and support from the administration.”

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