Luther College senior Hitz Graff selected to complete summer research on use of aluminum oxide in microelectromechanical systems

Whether building a pyramid or designing an engine, friction has long been a prominent factor in human innovation. Inventors must take into account the effects of friction on materials. Jesse Hitz Graff, Luther College senior of Winona, Minnesota, is experimenting with aluminum oxide to determine how the compound fares when friction is taken into account in certain technologies.

Hitz Graff, the son of Marcia Hitz and Todd Graff of Winona, is a 2012 graduate of Winona Senior High School. He is majoring in physics and mathematics at Luther.

The project, "Development of a microscale wear map for aluminum oxide using the atomic force microscope," will investigate the frictional and wear properties of aluminum oxide on a microscale. Building off of the laboratory's previous work with the compound, Hitz Graff will continue to work with aluminum oxide in determining its potential for use in microelectromechnical systems technologies such as overhead projectors and motion sensors.

"Ultimately we are trying to understand what causes friction and wear on the nano scale to improve the durability and longevity of these devices," said Hitz Graff.

Working with Erin Flater, Luther associate professor of physics, Hitz Graff will complete the research project over the course of the summer.

This project will result in a "wear map" detailing how fast wear occurs on aluminum oxide based on different factors such as sliding speed and environment humidity. These findings will be included in a publication about Flater's work with aluminum oxide and submitted to be presented at the Midstates Consortium Undergraduate Research Symposium.

The group's collaboration is one of 23 summer student-faculty research projects funded through Luther's College Scholars program and Dean's Office. The Student-Faculty Summer Research projects provide students an opportunity to research topics of interest alongside Luther faculty. This program is one of a wide selection of experiential learning opportunities at Luther intended to deepen the learning process and that are part of Luther's academic core.

A national liberal arts college with an enrollment of 2,400, Luther offers an academic curriculum that leads to the Bachelor of Arts degree in more than 60 majors and pre-professional programs. For more information about Luther visit the college's website:

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