A researcher at Michigan Technological University has received a $255,000 grant from NASA. His work in developing computer models for tiny materials could result in stronger, lighter aircraft.
Greg Odegard, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, creates these models to predict the strength of nanomaterials. One nanometer is equal to one-billionth of a meter.
“The materials we use, called nanotubes, are so small that we must rely on computer models to determine their stiffness and strength,” Odegard said. “It is very expensive to do this through experimentation.”
Scientists typically add these small nano-particles to other materials to take advantage of a specific property; for example, strength or resistance to corrosion.
Odegard focuses on polymers–or plastics–that are extremely lightweight, yet can be combined with other materials to add strength.
“These nanotubes are carbon and they are extremely strong,” he said. “They are stronger and stiffer than diamonds.”
Potential benefits of this research include improved structural components of aircraft, such as the outer skin and support structure of wings and the outer surface of the fuselage.
He also is looking at ways to develop advanced materials that can measure and report aircraft damage to the pilot and materials that neutralize the threat of projectile impacts.
Odegard started his computer modeling work four years ago as a scientist at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. He joined the Michigan Tech faculty this past August.
Michigan Tech’s mechanical engineering department is among the largest in the nation, with an undergraduate program ranked in the top 25 in the country by US News.