Texas Tech University

Michelle Pantoya

2010 Texas Tech Integrated Scholar

Professor of Mechanical Engineering;
College of Engineering

Michelle PantoyaThere are a lot of things we need to change as far as energy and biotechnology. There are a lot of improvements that will make this world a better place, and I guarantee an engineer is going to do that in the future. Hopefully those engineers will have been inspired by our book (Engineering Elephants).
- Michelle Pantoya

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What is your research objective/interest(s)?

Our lab group studies energetic material combustion. Energetic materials are explosives, pyrotechnics, and propellants—materials that do not need an additional oxidizer to react. We study the ignition and reaction propagation behaviors of formulations that we synthesize in our lab. Our formulations are unique, because they are composed of nano-scale particles. We study the unique combustion behaviors of nano-energetic materials as opposed to their micron-scale counterparts used in years past. We’ve discovered that nano-energetic materials are significantly more ignition sensitive and produce orders of magnitude more reactive energy than their micron scale counterparts.

Our group’s vision is to promote the use of nano-energetic materials through an understanding of their basic combustion behaviors. Our goal is to use nano-energetic materials to enhance national security and improve our quality of life. Our objectives are to explore the burning behavior, reaction kinetics, and ignition dynamics as a function of parameters such as particle size and composition; develop models and new diagnostic techniques to probe and understand reaction propagation; and, use these new models to exploit reaction properties for a variety of applications.

How do you feel your research impacts the globe?

We’ve made the weapon systems used by the U.S. Department of Defense safer to handle, more reliable, and more mobile. These contributions help protect our solders, ourselves, and our national security.We are making strides in using nano-energetic materials to revolutionize how we store energy. These new concepts are needed in today’s growing need for new energy storage systems that may transform the renewable energy landscape and reduce the carbon footprint of our generation and past generations.We are educating and training the next generation of energetic material scientists and engineers that will impact the future through their creativity and ingenuity.

Where do you get your inspiration?

My inspiration comes from the enthusiasm of my graduate students who constantly push me to think beyond any limits and endear me with a can-do attitude that always makes an idea possible. I’m also inspired by children who have an uncanny way of articulating the obvious with unintentional humor.

What type(s) of service projects do you enjoy doing?

Writing children’s books introducing engineering to young children. With young children of my own, I have learned that kids do not understand what an engineer does. They understand professions such as doctor, teacher, and police officer, but they do not understand engineer. These youthful years are impressionable, and there is a growing need to inspire our youngest population to consider engineering as a meaningful, impactful career that is stimulating and rewarding. That inspiration will grow as the children grow and will eventually blossom into a new generation of exceptionally creative engineers that will improve our way of life. There are significant advancements in technology that our world desperately needs that will be created by an engineer. It is my hope that through my series of children’s books, age-level appropriate activities, and lessons tailored to Pre-K through 2nd graders, more people will pursue engineering and change the landscape of the future.

What are you currently working on?

We are working with school districts throughout the Panhandle Region to enhance science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills through literacy. Our book, Engineering Elephants, is the first children’s book to introduce fundamental ideas of engineering to 2 to 8-year-old children. We are disseminating this educational tool to teachers and administrators who can influence the educational growth of young children. It is my hope that in the near future, we will reach beyond our local region and inspire young children across the country to consider engineering as an option for their future.

What advice do you have for new faculty members on balancing the components of an integrated scholar into their careers (academics, research, and service)?

Success comes from two things: a clear vision of what you want to achieve and the right attitude. Follow your passion and do what you enjoy. Have a plan and remember that you cannot move mountains overnight, but patience and perseverance will prevail!

Scholar Background

I grew up near Huntington Beach, California and earned my Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis in Mechanical Engineering in 1999. I started at Texas Tech in 2000 as an assistant professor. My vision was to develop and sustain a successful research program that would inspire students and others to reach their full potential. In writing children’s books, that vision has since been expanded beyond the college level. My goal has always been to lead in the discovery, innovation and advancement of science and technology for the improvement of our way of life. I am married, and we have four little boys. Balancing family and this rewarding career is the key to my happiness.


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