The Engineer's Impact - Remus Tutunea-Fatan

Your inside look at faculty’s research and its effect on society

In this Q&A series, we’ll feature Western Engineering faculty members to gain a succinct overview of their research, understand its impact on society, and discover intriguing little-known facts.

Meet Mechanical and Materials Engineering Associate Professor and Acting Department Chair Remus Tutunea-Fatan.

Remus-Tutunea-Fatan.jpgCan you describe your research?

The primary focus of my research is related to the design and manufacturing of functional surfaces. These surfaces generally incorporate an array of microstructures – typically of micron dimensions – of more or less regular geometry that are added to enhance certain properties of the “bare” or “structureless” surface. This augmentation of the properties is sometimes called surface functionalization. While various manufacturing processes can be used to fabricate these microstructures, my research team – working in close collaboration with researchers from National Research Council of Canada – relies on in-house developed variants of single point diamond cutting and laser polishing technologies. One of the key components of my research is a multi-axis CNC micromachining center whose precision approaches the nanometric domain.

How does your research impact society in everyday life?

Throughout the years, the augmented functionality of the structured surfaces has found a broad range of applications ranging from optical to biomedical. Regardless, if the microstructures are added to improve the retroreflective properties of the surface, to enhance its aero- or hydro-dynamic performance, to modify its hydrophilic/hydrophobic, oleophylic/oleophobic, iceophlic/iceophobic or fouling resistant behaviour, it is important to realize that their otherwise invisible presence can significantly modify the manner in which the surface interacts with the surrounding environment. In other words, wouldn’t it be nice if someday the popular Canadian tool called an ice scraper will become obsolete because of the icephobic microstructures that were added to the windshield?

What’s an interesting, little-known fact related to your research?

Whether we like it or not, Mother Nature continues to be centuries if not millennia ahead of us when it comes to surface functionalization. For instance – contrary to some older popular beliefs – until several decades ago, we did not know that a superior hydrodynamic performance is warranted not by a smooth but a structured surface (and shark skin remains one of the most relevant examples in this category). The question, however, remains how long will it take us to explain – with a high degree of certainty – why this is the case?