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Clemson researcher gets young scientist award

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Gov. Henry McMaster has honored a Clemson University researcher who has become a leader in the technology behind the fast-growing composite materials industry.

Srikanth Pilla, the Jenkins Professor of Automotive Engineering and dean’s faculty fellow, is this year’s recipient of the Young Scientist Award for Excellence in Scientific Research. He is based in Greenville at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research.

Pilla specializes in creating lightweight and sustainable composite materials and finding ways to use them in manufacturing, according to a university press release. Composite materials are developed to have advantages over more conventional materials. Some, for example, are lighter yet stronger than steel, reducing the weight of cars and airplanes to improve fuel efficiency.

The advanced materials industry, which includes composite materials, has brought 8,055 jobs and $4 billion in capital investment to the state since 2011, according to the state Department of Commerce, the press release said.

Pilla works closely with industry in his research, according to the news release. The Clemson Composites Center, where he is founding director, received $1.5-million in funding from the S.C.  Department of Commerce and has drawn the interest of the automotive, aerospace and sustainable energy industries.

Pilla accepted his Young Scientist award April 11 at the Statehouse in Columbia.

The award is presented under the joint sponsorship of the Governor’s Office and the South Carolina Academy of Science. It is directed each year “to a gifted young researcher who has demonstrated the potential for major contributions to his or her discipline,” according to the academy’s website.

“South Carolina has many excellent, young scientists, and it is an honor to be mentioned among them,” Pilla said in the news release. “I’d like to thank all those who have supported me along the way and those who nominated me for this award.”

Pilla has been awarded about $11.5 million in research funding in the four years he has been at Clemson, the news release said. His research interests range from the fundamental science behind composite materials to applying the science in real-world manufacturing.

Pilla has co-authored more than 100 widely cited, peer-reviewed archival publications and more than 150 technical presentations, reports and scientific articles. Pilla’s research is cross-disciplinary, bringing together polymer chemistry, polymer physics, energy resources, materials engineering, manufacturing science and computational theories. He has a joint appointment with Clemson’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

Zoran Filipi, chair of the Department of Automotive Engineering at Clemson, said that Pilla represents the best South Carolina has to offer.

“If Dr. Pilla continues his current trajectory, his accomplishments will have a profound impact on South Carolina,” said Zoran Filipi, chair of the Clemson University Department of Automotive Engineering. “He is an exceptional and gifted young scientist with the ability to deeply explore a scientific problem and translate the solutions into industrial applications.”

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