Working as an engineer was a somewhat unexpected career path for Reza Montazami after he graduated from Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy. Part way through his undergraduate studies, he began working on polymeric functional thin films for energy harvesting applications. He then became interested in applied science and started looking for applications that combined his prospective degree and his work with thin films. Given his background in physics and knowledge of materials, the best fit was in materials science and engineering, a field that would eventually lead him to innovative research in smart materials and an assistant professorship in mechanical engineering at Iowa State.
As a student, Montazami was honored with several awards and fellowships, including two National Science Foundation fellowships during his undergraduate study and a fellowship from the American Society for Engineering Education for his graduate studies. After completing his undergraduate degree, Montazami earned his master’s and doctoral degrees from Virginia Tech, both in materials science and engineering. As part of his dissertation project, he worked on developing smart structures based on ionic electroactive polymers for nature-inspired soft microrobotics. He conducted his initial research in collaboration with researchers from four universities, the US Army Research Laboratory, and the US Naval Research Laboratory, and continued his work as a research associate at Virginia Tech. During this time, he significantly contributed to the field of smart materials by developing a new generation of polymer based soft actuators and sensors, with applications in microrobotics and biomedical devices.
At Iowa State, Montazami is setting up a laboratory to resume his research on design, fabrication, and characterization of smart materials and structures, and is beginning to explore new applications in biomedical devices and soft microrobotics. The electromechanical actuators involved in his work have high flexibility, strain, and energy density similar to biological muscle fibers. He explains that when these actuators are subjected to an electrical field, they generate a mechanical response comparable to that of fibers in a biological muscle. This creates a smart structure that could have biomedical and military applications, including replacing damaged muscle or tissue with artificial materials that are capable of simultaneously actuating and sensing.
With the success he has seen up to this point, he expects his research to take a step in a different direction soon. “I would like to move towards creating smart biomaterials for biomedical devices,” Montazami says. He adds that there is a need for both biocompatible and biodegradable smart materials to create devices that would be implanted in a bioenvironment and operate without triggering a reaction in the host.
Several other devices share a similar structural design with ionic electroactive polymer actuators and sensors, offering additional possibilities for Montazami to explore. For example, a functional thin film similar to that used in actuators can also be used in fuel cells. “High porosity and large surface area makes this thin films ideal for fuel cell applications,” he says. Montazami is looking to generate renewable energy using devices based on similar functional thin films.
As he gets settled into his new position, he is looking to hire students for his laboratory, and additionally, he is working on putting together a multidisciplinary research program. “For now, learning more about my peers and identifying possible collaboration opportunities are my main objectives,” he says.
He adds that he is also busy bringing an interactive approach to teaching students. “Rather than having presentation-like lectures, I would like to keep my class interactive, making sure all students are involved and understand every step,” he says.
During the fall semester, he will be teaching ME 160, Mechanical Engineering Problem Solving with Computer Applications. He hopes that his past teaching assistant positions at Virginia Tech along with several courses he had in pedagogy and various teaching workshops he attended will heighten his teaching skills.