Dr. Elizabeth Opila, Materials Scientist/Engineer

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Associate Professor of Materials Science & Engineering
School of Engineering & Applied Science
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My research involves the study of high temperature materials used in extreme environments for energy, power, and propulsion applications.  We ask four questions:

  • How can we best create the relevant high temperature reactive conditions in the lab so we can test materials?
  • How do materials degrade in these environments? For example, how do degradation rates depend on temperature, gas composition, gas velocity, pressure, materials chemistry, other impurities in the use environment?
  • Once we know how materials degrade, how can we predict their lifetime in actual use conditions?
  • Finally, how can we make better materials that will last longer in these extreme environments?

These same four questions can be asked for materials to be used in airplane engines, rocket engines, thermoelectric devices, nuclear power, hypersonic vehicle thermal protection systems, solar concentrators, solid oxide fuel cells – any materials that get hot. Read more: High Temperature, High Performance

Graduate students Kathleen Shugart (PhD 2014), Rob Golden (PhD 2017), and Bohuslava McFarland (PhD 2017) perform experiments using high temperature furnaces.

Graduate students Kathleen Shugart (PhD 2014), Rob Golden (PhD 2017), and Bohuslava McFarland (PhD 2017) perform experiments using high temperature furnaces.


Meeting and talking with scientists with many different areas of expertise in even the most casual conversation can lead to great ideas.  Asking questions is terrifically important.  I give my students an essay about “The importance of stupidity in research.”  We each know such a tiny fragment of all knowledge that we should always be asking questions. Ideas for testing and improving materials can be borrowed or combined from different fields to create whole new capabilities.  We can use ideas that geologists, planetary scientists, metallurgists, or glass scientists have for completely different problems and use them to answer our own high temperature materials questions. I LOVE MENTORING STUDENTS!

Opila Lab, MSE - Engineering School, UVaThe most exciting aspect about my current research is working with both undergraduate and graduate students!  After 19 years as a research scientist at NASA I am now passing my love for solving scientific problems on to students.  It is so rewarding to see students get excited about research.  It is incredibly fulfilling to mentor students, to identify their strengths, and to work with them to grow into the best scientist they can be.




Learn more about Dr. Opila’s research. http://www.virginia.edu/ms/research/opila/

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