Incoming ME professor brings energy research program to Iowa State

During an era before the internet, Cary Pint remembers building ham radio antennas and designing electrical systems that allowed the young broadcaster to communicate with people all over the world.

Professor Cary Pint has created a device that can harvest energy from human movement. (John Russell/Vanderbilt University)

Pint, who will join the mechanical engineering (ME) faculty at Iowa State University for the spring 2020 semester, said that working on this radio equipment with his father first sparked his interest in STEM when he was growing up outside of Waterloo, Iowa.

“This inspired me at an early age because I could use my knowledge to build a system where I could sit in my room and talk to people across the world, which was so exciting when I was 12 or 13 years old before we had internet,” Pint said.

After graduating from high school, Pint joined the Marines. He completed boot camp and enrolled at the Citadel with intention of becoming a fighter pilot, however a few years later he instead decided to finish his obligation to the Marines and move back home with his family in Iowa. He then completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Northern Iowa and graduated with a B.S. in physics, becoming the first from his immediate family to finish college. He said that it was during the latter part of his undergraduate studies that some of his key mentors helped to guide him down the STEM career path that he is still on today.

“This turning point in my career helped me realize the massive impact a good mentor can have on the career paths and success of others, and this guides my own inspiration as an educator and mentor,” he said.

Pint went on to complete an M.S. and Ph.D. in applied physics from Rice University in Houston, Texas, where he conducted research in the laboratory of the late Richard Smalley and under advisement from Robert Hauge and Matteo Pasquali. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship under Ali Javey at the University of California, Berkeley, and then spent a year and a half working as a research scientist at Intel Labs in Santa Clara, California before joining the Vanderbilt University mechanical engineering faculty in 2012. Because of his multidisciplinary background, Pint brings a unique perspective to the field of mechanical engineering.

“What makes me at heart a mechanical engineer is my passion for research in energy and manufacturing that builds directly from core topics in the mechanical engineering discipline,” said Pint.  “However, my background that brings together diverse experiences through both academia and industry and across many different disciplines allows me to approach these problems in new and unique ways, and this sets my team apart from others.”

Much of Pint’s research focuses on energy systems, particularly batteries. He and his research team have studied cost, manufacturing and performance in an effort to make batteries a viable option for widespread transportation and electrical grid storage in the future. Among other things, his team has also designed a new class of Li-ion batteries that look and feel like carbon fiber reinforced composites but store energy like conventional batteries.  His team is working toward building these integrated structural power systems into drones and robots to break down the walls between the design of systems and their power sources.  He said he’s excited to get to Ames so he can begin collaborating with researchers in the ME department and perhaps even others across campus.

“There is no other school in the country that balances such diverse and high impact research in energy, nanomaterials and manufacturing relevant to my interests,” said Pint. “I also am excited about being at the epicenter of the most talented students in Iowa and surrounding states who are training to be world-class engineers and helping to mentor and teach these students inside the classroom and out.”

At Iowa State, Pint will teach M E 345: Engineering Dynamics. He will also hold the title of Charles Schafer (Battelle) Chair in Engineering. Before joining ISU, he advised nine students who have gone on to complete their Ph.D. He said that each student has brought a different skillset to the lab, so he often assembles his research team to balance each student’s strengths.

“I believe that one broad trait that is important for success in graduate school is perseverance,” said Pint. “It requires perseverance after projects or experiments fail to continue to redesign a hypothesis and keep working toward the end goal.”

When he’s not busy teaching or in the lab, Pint enjoys spending time outdoors, especially kayaking and fishing. He also enjoys cooking, playing guitar, keyboard or even jazz on his trumpet, and spending time with his wife Rizia and two sons: Elan (3) and Jonah (5).

“I find one of the most rewarding things that I do outside of the lab these days is to spend time with my kids and inspire them as they grow up so that maybe they can draw the same inspiration from me as I have from my father and other great mentors in my life.”