SCSAM Fellow Spotlight: Kaiser Aguirre

In middle school, Kaiser Aguirre was required to take a career placement quiz, and his top two results were Aerospace Engineer and Metallurgist. At the time, he did not know what those were, but he read the job descriptions and thought “those both sound pretty cool… and pay way more than being a forestry ranger!” 

As a first-year student pursuing an Aerospace Engineering degree at Iowa State University, Aguirre began working at Ames Laboratory. His interest in Materials Engineering was piqued after learning that mechanical properties change based on how a material is processed. At ISU, Aguirre became hooked on trying to design human-operated hardware to survive the extreme environment of space while pursuing extracurricular activities oriented toward space exploration such as NASA-affiliated challenges and the ISU Spaceflight Operations Workshop. After completing “Materials and Processes” co-ops at Sierra Space and NASA, Aguirre decided to apply to the CWRU Materials Science and Engineering graduate program. 

Aguirre’s thesis research is focused on mechanical characterization of niobium silicide alloys, a potential next-generation turbine blade material that can withstand temperatures above ~1300 °C, the current limitation. “This increase in turbine temperature significantly increases engine efficiency, which means you can either reduce the carbon fuel input to maintain energy output or increase energy output while maintaining carbon fuel input.” Other materials may enable similar changes in turbine temperatures such as oxide-dispersion-strengthened Ni alloys and ceramic matrix composites, and there are many other teams exploring refractory alloys, “so it will be exciting to see what gets industrialized in the next decade!”

With the SCSAM Fellowship, Aguirre is studying something different from the mechanical testing and failure analysis of his thesis research. He is now using X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS) to see how the addition of elements changes bonding structure in niobium silicide alloys and how that might explain the resistance to pesting, or catastrophic oxidation. John Kim, a Senior Research Engineer in SCSAM, said "It has been great working with Kaiser. He has a good understanding of the capabilities of XPS and knew exactly the type of information he needed from the analyses which in turn made the training go very smoothly".

Prior to becoming a SCSAM Fellow, Aguirre has used four other instruments in SCSAM, all at the “superuser” level. He has used the Apreo SEM to examine micro-/nano-indents and fracture surfaces, the Agilent nanoindenter to measure hardness, the Struers Tegramin-25 polisher to prepare specimens for indentation and other tests, and the Keyence optical microscope to examine microindents and fracture surfaces.

In the future, Aguirre hopes to develop hardware for the space environment, “ideally hardware that gets humans to Mars!”