Advanced materials, composites, and manufacturing techniques are driving a new industrial revolution, helping the United States regain its footing as a global leader in industry.
The improvements required to meet ever-changing needs are often brought about in university settings. At the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, several faculty members from multiple colleges are involved in research and development related to the field.
A recent National Science Foundation grant involving faculty in UT’s Tickle College of Engineering will further strengthen that presence through the establishment of the Center for Composite and Hybrid Materials Interfacing.
“Through this grant, we will be able to strengthen industry partnerships that advance groundbreaking research and development in advanced composites,” said Uday Vaidya, UT–Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair for Advanced Composites Manufacturing and UT’s lead on the project. “This is important work because it isn’t just research for the sake of discovery, but rather it is something that directly impacts the workforce.”
The grant is part of the NSF’s Industry–University Cooperative Research Centers Program, which helps facilitate research between the academic and business worlds. Joining UT on the IUCRC are Georgia Tech, which is serving as the overall lead, and Oakland University.
Each university has a specific focus within the new center. For UT, the main focus will be on advanced manufacturing and materials related to automotive, infrastructure, and biomedical applications. IACMI—The Composites Institute is a key partner in enabling industry ties to the center and the IUCRC.
Elements of the program will be housed in the Fibers and Composites Manufacturing Facility, the Science and Engineering Research Facility, and the Joint Institute of Advanced Materials, culminating in Innovation South, a forthcoming building on the University of Tennessee Research Park at Cherokee Farm.
In addition to Vaidya, UT’s team is composed of Fred N. Peebles Professor and JIAM Chair of Excellence Dayakar Penumadu, Associate Professor Timothy Truster, Assistant Professor Elizabeth Barker, and Research Assistant Professor Dibyendu Mukherjee. Vaidya and Barker work in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering, Penumadu and Truster are in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Mukherjee is in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
The UT team will design, test, characterize, and produce materials with hybrid composites and study the joining of dissimilar and soft materials, smart processing, and the use of recycled materials to make novel components.
Their various connections to ORNL, IACMI—The Composites Institute, the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials, and the Manufacturing and Demonstration Facility will also come into play.
“We each have our own experiences and capabilities that make a joint effort like this such a promising concept,” said Vaidya. “We’re joining our respective areas of expertise for the better good in much the same way that we hope to join different materials for the better good.”
While the initial NSF grant to UT is $750,000 over five years on a year-to-year renewal basis, the overall goal of the program is to reduce cost, improve production time, and limit variables within a decade. The total funding could greatly increase during the project, however, as additional industry partners join the center.
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