November 23, 2020
Hometown: Horseheads, NY
Advisor: Jeongmin Ahn
Tom Welles is doing research in seemingly disparate areas – in one of his projects, he works on automotive catalytic converters, and the other is on the corrosion of implanted biomedical devices. Electrochemistry, fluid dynamics, as well as Welles’ own ingenuity, provide the common thread.
After graduating with BS in aerospace engineering, he joined Dr. Ahn’s lab, where he designed and patented a new automotive emission control device utilizing a Solid Oxide Fuel Cell (SOFC) stack. SOFC, integrated into the exhaust system of internal combustion engines, improves their efficiency and reduces nitrogen oxide and other pollutant emissions. He is in conversations with industry to to commercialize his invention. Upon learning about Welles’ research, his uncle wanted to know if he could also do something about the corrosion of his hip implant. This piqued Welles’ interest. He read a few journal articles, which turned into an extensive literature review. Applying the concept of modified electrochemical reaction mechanisms via electrical oscillation from his SOFC research, he hypothesized that electrochemical activity in the body may be causing the dissolution of the alloys. He designed experiments that simulated in vivo implants which supported his hypothesis. He published these findings and is currently collaborating with an orthopedic surgeon to pursue funding for more extensive studies.
“I initially planned to do combustion analysis research,” reflects Welles. “No way could I have predicted I would be working on fundamental electrochemical reactions.” And so, his advice to aspiring PhD students is to “be open to opportunities and strive to do your best.”
In his free time, Welles restores classic automobiles and enjoys hiking with his wife and their two Golden Retrievers.