THOMAS BOUGHER INVESTIGATES NEW WAYS TO TAKE THE HEAT OFF ELECTRONICS
Thomas Bougher is a doctoral student in Georgia Tech’s Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, studying how polymers can be engineered to transport heat. As an undergraduate and master’s student, he worked on improving combustion engines before going back to school to study nanotechnology — a field he saw as the future for new energy technologies.
WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
I’m from Columbus, Ohio. I went to Purdue University for my undergraduate degree and studied mechanical engineering. Then I went to the University of Texas at Austin to get a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE GEORGIA TECH?
After my master’s degree, I worked for five years as a combustion engineer at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. I did a lot of work with diesel engines, such as reducing emissions and improving fuel economy. But I wanted to get into nanotechnology and new energy technologies. Georgia Tech has some really interesting research in that area. More specifically, there is a great community in nanoscale heat transfer, which is the focus of much of my work.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO NANOTECHNOLOGY?
Studying nanomaterials is exciting because there are just so many things that we don’t know yet. With a little creativity and some fundamental science you can try a lot of new things and maybe discover something interesting. I’m part of the NanoEngineered Systems and Transport laboratory led by Associate Professor Baratunde Cola.
HOW ARE POLYMERS RELEVANT TO COOLING?
Polymers are typically thought of as poor conductors of heat — you make all sorts of insulation, like coolers, out of them. But if you engineer the polymers on a nanoscale, you can actually line up polymer chains in certain directions and make them pretty good thermal conductors. We looked at a way to do that through creating an array of nanotubes that are lined up for high thermal conductivity in a pure polymer form.
WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE FOR PEOPLE CONSIDERING A CAREER SHIFT?
It’s never too late to make a switch, but after a five-year break from school, getting back to books and classes was a little painful in the beginning, so don’t wait too long. — BRETT ISRAEL