Zara Aamer '21 - Investigating the relationship between molecular structure and thermal transport


Zara Aamer ‘21 is conducting research that investigates the relationship between molecular structure and thermal transport properties of three-dimensional covalent organic frameworks (COFs) with Zhiting Tian, associate professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace engineering.

COFs are a new class of porous crystalline polymers that have been used in the storage and separation of gases such as hydrogen, methane, and more.

Zara AamerAamer, a mechanical engineering major in the Sibley School, is working with Tian and former Ph.D. student, Hao Ma to design and simulate single-crystal 3D COF structures by using COF-300, a well-established 3D COF, as a basis. Their goal is to build a fundamental understanding of how structure relates to thermal transport properties, and how structure can be modified to achieve the desired property. Specifically, Aamer ran molecular dynamics simulations on supercomputers to calculate heat flux data and extract thermal conductivity values for the structures. 

The team found that porosity not only has a strong effect on thermal conductivity but also impacts atomic arrangement and the disorder level at the microscopic level although the crystallinity is preserved on the macroscale. 

“This research provides key insight into the thermal transport mechanisms in COFs, which is an important step for their utilization in real-world applications such as energy storage and in thermal devices,” says Aamer.

The work also establishes methods to tune and enhance thermal transport in crystalline polymers by modifying their structures. 

Undergraduate research experiences not only provide students with the opportunity to put theory to practice but allow space for organic mentorship to develop. Tian’s mentorship provided Aamer with the encouragement and support to take risks associated with new opportunities.

“Research is an adventure,” says Tian. “Knowing there is always a risk, we embrace the risk and think of ways to mitigate the risk. I very much welcome undergraduate researchers to explore this risky-but-rewarding journey with the ZT group.”

Aamer was drawn to the Cornell University because of the history of innovation and collaboration across campus. The collaborative nature of her education has been one of the most impactful aspects of her undergraduate career, affording her the opportunity to tackle real-world engineering problems in a supported team setting. 

“From homework sets to larger design projects, there is always a great emphasis placed on working with other students and faculty members, which has really opened up new ideas and approaches to problem-solving,” says Aamer.

After completing her B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, Aamer will go on to complete her Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) where she will focus on energy materials and sustainability.

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