Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
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AEM spotlight:

Research Update:  Elliott's Students Research Active Materials

Paul Dye

Click the image above for a collage of Elliott's team's work.

   In January of 2008, Ryan Elliott received an NSF Career Award.  The project was set to study the basic mechanisms that give shape memory alloys the ability to remember their shape.  Elliott’s hopes were that the computational methods developed would provide fresh perspective on the fundamental principles governing the behavior of active materials.

Since then, with the work of graduate students, Venkata Suresh Reddy Guthikonda, Vincent Jusuf, and Daniel Karls---who are part of Elliott's research group---has made good progress toward a better understanding of why these materials behave the way they do, how to better predict their behavior, and how best to design active materials for use as sensors and actuators.

Active materials possess the uncommon ability to significantly change their properties, such as their shape, hardness, or color, in response to an external stimulus.  Current applications include medical devices such as vascular stents, orthodontic archwires, and shape changing surgical tools made from shape memory alloys; electronic ignition devices, inkjet printers, and accelerometers (like the ones used in Wii video game controllers) made from piezoelectric materials; and also data storage devices, made from ferroelectric materials, that are often used in aircraft and automotive event recorders ("black boxes") and "smart" airbag systems.  Future applications are likely to include ultra-efficient refrigeration devices made from magnetic shape memory alloys and "energy harvesting" devices that could, for instance, charge your cell phone while you walk by extracting electricity from the shock-absorbing deformations that occur in your shoes.

Guthikonda is currently using methods from solid state physics to derive quantum mechanics-based computer models of active materials.  For any given material, these models aim to predict if active behavior will occur.  The realization of such ability would eliminate a significant amount of expensive and time consuming trial-and-error experimentation in the field of active materials design and optimization. 

Jusuf is currently working on the development of computational tools known as "Branch-Following and Bifurcation (BFB) methods."  These are sophisticated computer algorithms that are able to efficiently explore the active materials models that Guthikonda is developing. These BFB methods are vital to Elliott's long-term goal of creating fast and efficient tools for the design of active materials. 

Finally, Karls is studying the mathematical theory of crystalline deformation in order to better understand and describe how active materials bend, twist, and generally change their shape.  The results of Karls’ research are expected to lead to improved BFB algorithms and possibly new fundamental insights into the reasons active materials exist in the first place.

Work on this project will continue to be supported by NSF through 2012.

To learn more about Professor Ryan Elliott’s research, visit his AEM biography page



Last Modified: Wednesday, 19-Aug-2009 12:14:56 CDT -- this is in International Standard Date and Time Notation