Lead-free brass for drinking water applications

Due to the severe health impacts of environmental lead, there is an urgent need to eliminate it from infrastructure and products, with a particular focus on the lead-containing brass alloys used in plumbing. This project is aimed at development of new non-toxic and industrially-viable brass alloys, which will be a critical contribution toward meeting the global challenge of eliminating lead-containing brasses within the next decade. 

Current alternatives for leaded brass have manufacturing, material property and cost limitations. However, a family of brass alloys that was developed by previous HMC students along with our group’s Australian* collaborators is an excellent base for a new family of alloys that will fill the materials gap left by the exit of leaded brasses. These alloys are compositionally-complex, meaning that they have significant fractions of four or more elements. 

This project is multidisciplinary hands-on on work (see other posting for corresponding computational work). Students learn and use relevant thermodynamic principles to select alloy compositions and heat treatments; create alloy samples from pure element constituents using an arc melter; analyze sample mechanical properties such as hardness (indenter), strength and ductility (MTS machine), and machinability (lathe); analyze sample microstructure [map compositions and phases using energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS) in a scanning electron microscope and determine crystal structure and lattice parameters using x-ray diffraction (XRD)]; and then refine compositions. No student in the group does every part of this, each chooses which are most interesting. 

*Our group travels to the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia for summer research! Background learning work in spring is important so students can be prepared for this experience. See keets.org for more about our collaboration on this project and others.

Essay Prompt - What is your motivation to conduct research in general and in this project in particular? Describe your relevant background and/or desire to learn specified skills. 

Also please:

  • Explain how many units you would like to sign up for (between one and three) in spring 2023 (and fall 2023, as students typically continue on projects) and how adding these additional units would fit into your academic plan. Note that each unit requires approximately three hours of research work per week plus meetings.

  • Provide names of two HMC professors who could provide references on your work style (please say the context in which they know you. Professors from project or lab classes (or previous research) might be especially good choices.)

  • Submit on URO or email to bassman@g.hmc.edu your resume or, if you don’t have one, a list of activities that you are involved in at HMC (extracurricular activities, projects, or anything outside of academics). 

Very soon after the application window closes, applicants will be selected for an interview with Prof Bassman and an alumnus group member.

Name of research group, project, or lab
Laspa Fellowship in Applied Mechanics
Why join this research group or lab?

The Laspa Fellowship focuses on developing analytical and computational skills and methods that can be applied to maximize the impact of experiments. Our team works to develop novel compositionally-complex alloys, metallic alloys that show great promise for vastly superior properties compared to those of traditional alloys, for a variety of applications.

You will be part of a longstanding collaboration between HMC students and researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia. This year, students in our group will be from both HMC and UC Merced. We aim for all group memebers to make contributions worthy of co-authorship on at least one journal paper, conference presentation and/or patent. Nine recent Fellows doing experimental work are named on patent applications we have filed and are named on presentations given by Fellows at conferences.

In addition to the support of the Laspa Fellowship, this work is funded by the National Science Foundation through a program that specifically supports international research experience for students at UNSW in Australia, and our summer research takes place there! The NSF grant, and hence this opportunity, is open to US citizens and permanent residents.

If you would like to learn more about the specifics of our work and group, don’t hesitate to reach out to Prof Bassman.

Logistics Information:
Project categories
Materials Science
Mechanical Engineering
Student ranks applicable
Student qualifications

This project is accessible to any interested HMC student, and especially those who are/expect to be Engineering majors. While not required for applicants, relevant skills for different aspects of this work are learned in E86 and E83 (and to a lesser extent E82) as well as core chemistry.  Experience in the machine shop and/or other hands on fabrication are assets. 

Time commitment
Spring - Part Time
Summer - Full Time
Academic Credit
Paid Research
Number of openings
Techniques learned

Some subset of:

  • Making alloys from pure metals using an arc melter
  • Heat treating and preparing samples for testing
  • Mechanical testing (hardness, strength, ductility, machinability)
  • Electron microscopy 
  • X-ray diffraction
  • Thermodynamic modeling
Contact Information:
Lori Bassman
Name of project director or principal investigator
Lori Bassman
Email address of project director or principal investigator
2 sp. | 3 appl.
Hours per week
Spring - Part Time (+1)
Spring - Part TimeSummer - Full Time
Project categories
Mechanical Engineering (+2)
EngineeringMaterials ScienceMechanical Engineering