Materials Undergrad Wins Conference Award For Research

SOCORRO, N.M. October 31, 2012 – Materials Engineering student Max Holliday earned second place for his research poster dealing with the testing of solder at the 24th Rio Grande Symposium on Advanced Materials in Albuquerque in October.


Max Holliday, a junior in the Materials Engineering Department, with his winning poster at a recent conference in Albuquerque.



The junior from Albuquerque presented his work titled “The Effect of Gold Alloy Dissolutions on the Solderability of Lead-Free Solders.” Along with co-authors Paul Vianco and Jerry Rejent from Sandia National Laboratories, Holliday is developing an understanding of how the gold protective finishes that are used on electronics can interfere with how solders bond to component surfaces. His measurements and analyses of the solder-substrate interfaces have established a framework from which the performance of these solders can be optimized. He is working with tin solders that contain copper and silver.

“The opportunity to speak in front of many people was good practice for my technical career,” Holliday said. “It would be great for New Mexico Tech to have a bigger presence at the symposium next year. It was kind of intimidating, since the conference was full of industry leaders. But as long as you’re confident in your research and you know what you’ve done and how to do it, you can defend your research effectively.”

In addition to the award and peer recognition, Holliday won $100 for his efforts. He has been working at Sandia for 2½ years – ever since graduating from Sandia High School. Holliday said co-author Vianco is an idol of his and a recognized expert in the research and engineering of soldering materials. Regent is Holliday’s mentor and advisor on his research project.


Max Holliday in the materials engineering lab at New Mexico Tech.

Photos courtesy of Terry Lowe/New Mexico Tech

The lead-free solder that Holliday is testing is expected to be a replacement material for the traditional lead-based solders that have been used for decades. Holliday has been testing the new solder’s ability to adhere to gold-plated components commonly found on computer circuit boards. He submerged gold-plated components in a bath of solder, then test the samples using a wetting balance and a meniscometer – a method pioneered by Vianco. He could then quantify the interfacial tension, the contact angle and other qualities and forces.

Holliday and the Sandia scientists have proved that the bond between lead-free solder and gold is weaker than with traditional solder. How do materials engineers approach that problem?

“That’s future research,” Holliday said. “Now we can tweak our solder alloys so they better interact with gold surfaces.”

He said he intends to continue his research and he hopes to find more opportunities to present his work at future conferences.

New Tech faculty member Dr. Terry Lowe said he is impressed with Holliday’s presentation at the conference.

“With the momentum we are building by adding new research in our department, we are sure to make a strong showing at next year’s symposium and in other similar venues,” he said.

The symposium is hosted by the New Mexico chapters of the American Ceramic Society, Materials Research Society, ASM International, American Vacuum Society, and the American Chemical Society. The event brought together New Mexico materials scientists and engineers to exchange their most recent technical achievements at the Hotel Albuquerque in the historic Old Town district of Albuquerque.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech