An assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of New Mexico was awarded the 2018 Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award for his work, titled “Next Generation Electrical Wires for Navy Applications.”

This year, Mehran Tehrani was one of 31 recipients selected amongst 340 qualified applicants to receive this award. According to the Office of Naval Research, his prize includes a three-year grant totaling $510,000.

The Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Program, or ONR YIP, is one of oldest and most selective technology basic research programs in the nation. The program was introduced in 1985 and aims to solve some of the toughest naval warfighting challenges by funding the research of early-career academic researchers, known as investigators, whose scientific pursuits exhibit strong potential for supporting the Department of Defense, according to the Office of Naval Research.

Tehrani said the money he receives from this award will help advance his research by covering a variety of costs.

“I can support three Ph.D. students to work on (research) basically,” he said. “I can pay for their travel to go to conferences, buy equipment, pay for experiments that we do here — all of those great things.”

Tehrani’s research topic focuses on understanding the fundamentals behind combining nanocarbons and metals. Tehrani said he hopes gaining a better understanding of these fundamentals will lead to the development of metal-nanocarbon cables that are more efficient than the copper-based cables currently used in systems like satellites, ships and aircrafts.

“We are looking at the fundamental understanding of a system,” Tehrani said. “In this case, the system is a nanocomposite. If we understand its fundamentals, we can engineer it to outperform copper.”

Higher efficiency cables have applications in a variety of areas, one of which being work done by the Department of Defense.

“Replacing power and data cables in satellites and aircrafts can save hundreds of millions on satellite-launching costs and aircraft fuel...If you have a material that does not corrode like copper does, that is stronger, can carry higher electricity currents and can perform at higher temperatures, then it enables better systems and better components — better aircrafts, better satellites and better ships,” Tehrani said.

The research that comes from his project will also play a key role in helping people save money on their electric bills by increasing the efficiency of the appliances they use on a daily basis.

Tehrani said he hopes the information will help UNM and other scientists quicken the adoption of new material for multiple applications, including electric motors.

“I think 60 percent of the total U.S. electricity goes to electric motors of different kinds,” he said. “Whether it be your washing machine, dishwasher, the AC, the heater — everything has a motor in it. A lot of electricity is lost because of the connectivity of copper.”

He said if a material could outperform copper, the efficiency of motors would be higher and therefore lower electricity bills.

Yu-Lin Shen, mechanical engineering department chair and professor, said Tehrani is highly deserving of this award.

“Dr. Tehrani is an excellent teacher, an exceptional researcher and is especially successful in integrating teaching and research,” he said. “This ONR research topic proposed by him targets advanced manufacturing and energy materials, which are strategically important for many potential applications for the U.S. Navy.”

Shen said this award will greatly help Tehrani’s research, while also benefiting students.

“The award is not only a high honor, but comes with funding to directly support graduate and undergraduate students to join his research team to contribute to the technical work,” he said. “It also helps with equipping his laboratory so his team can continue to make discoveries and develop lightweight and ultrahigh conductivity carbon nanotube-copper composite wires that are fabricated by advanced processes.”

In addition to helping students, Shen said this award will increase the competitiveness of UNM’s School of Engineering.

“The award will directly and indirectly benefit many mechanical engineering students, grow our research enterprise and greatly enhance UNM's reputation and ability to compete for more future funding to conduct cutting-edge research,” he said.

Tehrani said receiving this award is a step in the right direction for an assistant professor.

“As an assistant professor, this is a dream come true...Establishing yourself as someone who can do original, innovative work with prestigious recognition, that is something you want as an assistant professor,” Tehrani said.

Mikhaela Smith is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @MikhaelaSmith18.