Taylor D. Sparks

Department of Materials Science and Engineering

University of Utah

Taylor D. Sparks

Dr. Sparks is an Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Department at the University of Utah. He is originally from Utah and an alumnus of the department he now teaches in. Before graduate school he worked at Ceramatec Inc. working on advanced ceramics for energy applications. He did his MS in Materials at UCSB in 2009 and his PhD in Applied Physics at Harvard University in 2012 in David Clarke’s laboratory. He then did a postdoc with Ram Seshadri in the Materials Research Laboratory at UCSB.

He is currently the Director of the Materials Characterization Lab at the University of Utah and teaches classes on ceramics, materials science, characterization, and technology commercialization. His current research centers on the discovery, synthesis, characterization, and properties of new materials for energy applications. He is a pioneer in the emerging field of materials informatics whereby big data, data mining, and machine learning are leveraged to solve challenges in materials science.


Hydrogel Synthesis

JoVE 10486

Source: Amber N. Barron, Ashlea Patterson, and Taylor D. Sparks, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, The University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

Hydrogels are a versatile class of cross-linked polymers produced through relatively simple procedures and with generally inexpensive materials. They can be formed from solution and involve a polymer backbone formed from monomer reagents, an initiator which makes the polymer reactive and a crosslinking species which binds the polymer chains together. An important aspect of these materials is that they swell in the presence of water, but this response can be tuned further to enhance swelling as a function of salinity, pH, or other signals. As a final product, hydrogels can be used in aqueous or dry environments, with a range of useful properties such as flexibility, high absorbance, transparency and thermal insulation. They are commonly used for liquid absorbance, sensors, consumer products, and drug delivery.

 Materials Engineering

Differential Scanning Calorimetry

JoVE 10487

Source: Danielle N. Beatty and Taylor D. Sparks, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, The University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

Differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) is an important measurement to characterize thermal properties of materials. DSC is used primarily to calculate the amount of heat stored in a material as it heats up (heat capacity) as well as the heat absorbed or released during chemical reactions or phase changes. However, measurement of this heat can also lead to the calculation of other important properties such as glassy transition temperature, polymer crystallinity, and more.

Due to the long, chain-like nature of polymers it is not uncommon for polymer strands to be entangled and disordered. As a result, most polymers are only partially crystalline with the remainder of the polymer being amorphous. In this experiment we will utilize DSC to determine polymer crystallinity.

 Materials Engineering

Thermal Diffusivity and the Laser Flash Method

JoVE 10488

Source: Elise S.D. Buki, Danielle N. Beatty, and Taylor D. Sparks, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, The University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

The laser flash method (LFA) is a technique used to measure thermal diffusivity, a material specific property. Thermal diffusivity (α) is the ratio of how much heat is conducted relative to how much heat is stored in a material. It is related to thermal conductivity (Equation 1), how much heat is transferred through a material due to a temperature gradient, by the following relationship:

Equation 2 (Equation 1)

where ⍴ is the density of the material and Cp is the specific heat capacity of the material at the given temperature of interest. Both thermal diffusivity and thermal conductivity are important material properties used to assess how materials transfer heat (thermal energy) and react to changes in temperature. Thermal diffusivity measurements are obtained most commonly by the thermal or laser flash method. In this technique a sample is heated by pulsing it with a laser or xenon flash on one side but not the other, thus inducing a temperature gradient. This temperature gradient results in heat propagating through the sample towards the opposite side, heating the sample as it goes. On the opposite side an infrared detector reads and reports the temperature change with respect to time in the form of a thermogram. An estimate of the thermal diffusivity is obtained after these results are compared and fit to theoretical predictions using a least squares model.

The laser flash method is the only method that is supported by multiple standards (ASTM, BS, JIS R) and is the most widely used method for determining thermal diffusivity.

 Materials Engineering

Electroplating of Thin Films

JoVE 10489

Source: Logan G. Kiefer, Andrew R. Falkowski, and Taylor D. Sparks, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, The University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

Electroplating is a process that uses electric current to reduce dissolved metal cations so that they form a thin coating on an electrode. Other thin film deposition techniques include chemical vapor deposition (CVD), spin coating, dip coating, and sputter deposition among others. CVD uses a gas-phase precursor of the element to be deposited. Spin coating spreads the liquid precursor centrifugally. Dip coating is similar to spin coating, but rather than spinning the liquid precursor, the substrate is completely submerged in it. Sputtering uses plasma to remove the desired material from a target, which then plates the substrate. Techniques such as CVD or sputtering produce very high quality films but do so very slowly and at high cost since these techniques typically require a vacuum atmosphere and small sample size. Electrodeposition doesn't rely on a vacuum atmosphere which greatly reduces the cost and increases scalability. In addition, relatively high rates of deposition can be achieved with electrodeposition.

 Materials Engineering

Analysis of Thermal Expansion via Dilatometry

JoVE 10490

Source: J. Jacob Chavez, Ryan T. Davis, and Taylor D. Sparks, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, The University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

Thermal expansion is extremely important when considering which materials will be used in systems that experience fluctuations in temperature. A high or low thermal expansion in a material may or may not be desirable, depending on the application. For instance, in a common liquid thermometer, a material with a high thermal expansion would be desirable due to its sensitivity to temperature changes. On the other hand, a component in a system that experiences high temperatures, such as a space shuttle re-entering the atmosphere, will need a material that will not expand and contract with large temperature fluctuations in order to prevent thermal stresses and fracture.

Dilatometry is a technique used to measure the dimensions of area, shape, length or volume changes of a material as a function of temperature. A principal use for a dilatometer is the calculation of thermal expansion of a substance. The dimensions of most materials increase when they are heated at a constant pressure. The thermal expansion is obtained by recording the contraction or expansion in response to changes in temperature.

 Materials Engineering

Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy

JoVE 10491

Source: Kara Ingraham, Jared McCutchen, and Taylor D. Sparks, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, The University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

Electrical resistance is the ability of an electrical circuit element to resist the flow of electricity. Resistance is defined by Ohm's Law:

Equation 1    (Equation 1)

Where Equation 2 is the voltage and Equation 3 is the current. Ohm's law is useful for determining the resistance of ideal resistors. However, many circuit elements are more complex and can't be described by resistance alone. For example, if an alternating current (AC) is used then the resistivity will often depend on the frequency of the AC signal. Instead of using resistance alone, electrical impedance is a more accurate and generalizable measure of a circuit element's ability to resist the flow of electricity.

Most commonly, the goal of electrical impedance measurements is the deconvolution of a sample's total electrical impedance into contributions from different mechanisms such as resistance, capacitance, or induction.

 Materials Engineering