Arvind Agarwal is a professor of mechanical and materials engineering. He was the recipient of the 2010 President’s Council Outstanding Faculty Award
I develop new materials and coatings for biomedical, aerospace and defense applications. My main lab is called the Plasma Forming Lab. Our plasma gun creates temperatures of 12,000 to 15,000 Kelvin, which is twice the temperature of the sun’s surface. Everything in my lab is done by students. They are the technicians, engineers and researchers. The students are maintaining things at an industrial level of operation. I have been working with a material called carbon nanotubes. They are 1,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair. You can’t see them without an electron microscope. But these materials are very, very strong, 100 times stronger than steel. My vision has been to translate nanotechnology into a real-life application.There could be three or four different applications — orthopedic applications, like a new, much stronger bone for hip replacements or knee replacements or next-generation thermal protective aerospace space coatings. I also have a project with biology professor Lydia Kos, who works on skin cancer. She has a theory that cancerous cells and healthy cells have different hardness and stiffness, but it was a challenge for her to measure the hardness of cells. I don’t know anything about the physiology of those cells, but I know how to measure the hardness. We are measuring the hardness and stiffness of those cells hoping one day this will become a very nice diagnostic tool for skin cancer and other diseases. After the end of my bachelor’s program I realized I wanted to have a career in research. I didn’t want to have a boss. I wanted to do what I like. Research gives me that independence. I am my own boss. There cannot be a better job than this.