Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering - News Briefs

Welcome to the University of Virginia's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering news briefs, a place to find quick notes and posts from the faculty, students, staff and alumni.

    NMCF Senior Scientist Dickie Named Chair of “Small Molecule” Scientific Interest Group

    December 03, 2020

    NMCF XRD & XCT Specialist Dr. Diane Dickie has been elected as the 2021 Chair Elect and 2022 Chair of the “Small Molecule” Scientific Interest Group for the American Crystallographic Association (ACA). The ACA is a  scientific organization founded in 1949 and dedicated to the promotion of atomic-scale molecular structure research. ACA's mission is to further scientific interactions that "will advance experimental and computational aspects of crystallography and diffraction. Understanding the nature of the forces that both control and result from the molecular and atomic arrangements in matter will help shed light on chemical interactions in nature." More information about the ACA and the activities of the more than one thousand members can be found on their website.

    Congratulations Diane!


    Daniel Quinn Receives Prestigious NSF CAREER Award

    November 18, 2020


    Fish and birds use complex high-speed maneuvers when chasing prey or escaping predators. How water and air flow around these animals during maneuvers is mostly unknown. Mapping out these flows will help biologists better understand the relationship between fish, birds, and their environment. Mapping out these flows will help bio-inspired roboticists, who currently rely on models of low-speed, symmetric gaits when designing and testing robots. Understanding the flows that govern rapid maneuvers will enable a new generation of fast, flexible, ultra-maneuverable bio-inspired robots. The principal goal of this project is therefore to discover the fluid dynamics that govern high-speed, asymmetric swimming/flying gaits. The project integrates educational activities, including virtual tours where students from rural high schools teleconference into the lab and remotely control a robotic swimming rig.

    This project is made possible by a unique rig that creates high-frequency, asymmetric flapping motions in a water channel. The rig uses a scotch-yoke mechanism to double the frequencies traditionally available to studies of swimming and flying, and it floats on air bushings in order to simulate autonomous maneuvers. The performance of fish- and bird-inspired propulsion strategies are then quantified by a combination of Particle Image Velocimetry and dynamic force measurements. These experiments will inform adaptations to models of unsteady aerodynamics as they pertain to swimming and flying animals and robots. The experimental-theoretical campaign will focus on three specific research goals: (i) Determine what three-dimensional flow features govern the thrust and efficiency of high-frequency bio-inspired gaits, (ii) Determine what three-dimensional flow features govern the maneuverability of asymmetric bio-inspired gaits, and (iii) Determine what wake-driven models predict the performance of high-frequency, asymmetric, tunable-stiffness fins and wings. More generally, the project?s overarching goal is for the unique semiautonomous rig and the associated modeling to create new precedents and templates for those integrating fluid dynamics into the next generation of intelligent machines.

    Ramped up Remote NMCF Instrument Training Makes the News

    November 09, 2020

    University of Virginia School of Engineering students, faculty and professional research staff now have an agile and safe way to train on sophisticated instruments housed within the Nanoscale Materials Characterization Facility.

    Lab manager Richard White created specialized instrument training videos featuring facility instrument scientists. Then, White and information technology specialist Ig Jakovac developed Zoom remote-training methodology and “driver’s tests” that allow users to complete required training and certification while following COVID-19 protection protocols.  

    Remote training on seven instruments in the Nanoscale Materials Characterization Facility began the first week of September. By the end of October, 12 students and post-doctoral researchers passed their driver’s tests and are now at work; remote training can now be completed on all the instruments.

    Cole Love-Baker, a Ph.D. student of mechanical and aerospace engineering, completed training on the Quanta 650 scanning electron microscope. Love-Baker works on the fabrication of carbon fibers, advised by Rolls-Royce Commonwealth Professor Xiaodong (Chris) Li in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

    Carbon fibers are a light-weight but expensive material used in the automotive industry; Love-Baker focuses on designing low-cost precursor materials such as polymers, which could make carbon fibers more attractive for military, aircraft and aerospace applications. Love-Baker’s research involves a lot of experimental work, including synthesis, mechanical testing, spectroscopy and microscopy.

    “The SEM is essential to the investigation of our carbon fibers,” Love-Baker said. “With high-precision measurements of a cross-sectional area, we can accurately characterize the fibers’ mechanical properties and make qualitative statements about the fibers’ structure and composition.”

    Love-Baker found a lot to like about the training experience and the training videos especially. He could observe how to operate the instrument without having to stand in close quarters with White or Joe Thompson, specialists in electron microscopy. After he reviewed the training videos, Love-Baker was ready for remote training, culminating in his driver’s test on the scanning electron microscope, evaluated by White and Thompson.

    “Richard and Joe do not go easy on us; we need to demonstrate that we understand both the functional theory and actual operation of the machine,” Love-Baker said.

    White and Thompson asked Love-Baker to lead them through the training session to prove he would use the machine correctly, from system checks upon entry in the lab to staging and imaging as well as trouble-shooting. Monitoring Love-Baker’s actions over Zoom, they could see how he was operating the instrument and the adjustments he was making.

    The driver’s test is also a learning experience. “They let me make mistakes and showed me how that affected image quality and other factors,” Love-Baker said.

    This creative combination of training videos and Zoom allows students to complete instrument training on-demand to meet research group publication deadlines and sponsored research milestones, while keeping their own course work on track.

    “The SEM will be crucial to my success here at UVA,” Love-Baker said.

    UVA Engineering Executive Dean Pamela M. Norris also had good things to say about this innovation. “I am proud of the Nanoscale Materials Characterization Facility and all of our research teams, which have risen to extraordinary challenges this year,” Norris said. “This type of innovation, along with excellent collaboration among our faculty, staff, students and school leadership, has positioned UVA Engineering to be even stronger when we emerge from this pandemic. It is exciting to see the bold ideas that will have a truly positive impact on society.”

    Learn more about UVA Engineering’s bold ideas and research to combat the pandemic by clicking here.

    Associate Professor Qing “Cindy” Chang Receives National Recognition for Her Work in Smart Manufacturing

    June 10, 2020


    Associate Professor Qing “Cindy” Chang Elected as an ASME Fellow and Named One of the 20 Most Influential Professors by SME

    Qing "Cindy" Chang, an associate professor who has joint appointment in the Departments of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Systems and Environment, was recently elected as a Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), a national honor for eminent professors in mechanical engineering and typically reserved for full professors.

    Chang was also recognized as one the 20 most influential professors in smart manufacturing in the nation by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) . The society stated that “Chang is a pioneer in data-driven modeling and real-time production control and decision-making to improve the efficiency of manufacturing systems…Her work has been implemented in many General Motors plants in North America and demonstrated significant improvement in operational efficiency and economic benefit…it will potentially enable even greater economic benefits for many other industries.”

    “The focus on data-driven manufacturing requires future engineers to acquire training in data science, which is an enabling skill in the smart manufacturing field,” said Chang.

    Read more:

    Baoxing Xu Wins Two Competitive and Prestigious Research Awards

    May 21, 2020


    Congratulations to assistant professor Baoxing Xu at the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering who has recently received a 2020 ONR Young Investigator Award and the 2020 ASME Sia Nemat-Nasser Early Career Award.

    According to The Office of Naval Research (ONR), the ONR Young Investigator Program (YIP) is one of the nation’s oldest and most selective basic research early career awards in science and technology. Its purpose is to fund tenure-track academic researchers, or equivalent, whose scientific pursuits show outstanding promise for supporting the Department of Defense, while also promoting their professional development. Xu is among the 25 scientists who have been selected to receive a 2020 YIP grant from 260 applicants nationwide.

    Xu was also selected for the 2020 ASME Sia Nemat-Nasser Early Career Award “for the development of multiphysics interface mechanics for creative applications in the novel design and assembly of heterogeneous structures, film electronics and soft–hard integrated materials.” This award recognizes early career research excellence in the areas of experimental, computational, and theoretical mechanics and materials by young investigators who are within ten years after their Ph.D. degree. To read more about the award, click here.

    Because Engineers are Innovative

    May 21, 2020

    From Assistant Professor Dan Quinn: "Since the second half of my class was supposed to be a hands-on robotics final project, I thought Covid-19 would ruin the whole thing. Instead, one student volunteered to take one of the robotics rigs back to her apartment and set up a webcam + remote access so that other students could run tests remotely. It was pretty cool." [VIDEO]



    Winners at the 15th Annual University of Virginia Engineering Research Symposium

    May 21, 2020


    Graduate student Sebastian Giudice (left), from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace’s Center for Applied Biomechanics, won first place in the podium presentation category at the (virtual) 15th annual University of Virginia Engineering Research Symposium. The event highlights the research achievements across all UVA Engineering’s graduate student body. Research scientist Bronek Gepner (right) who is also from the department’s Center for Applied Biomechanics, won the Research Mentor of the Year award. This award is given to a non-faculty, non-student research-focused employee who is indispensable to many students' work.

    Giudice presented his research on a new technique that he has developed to automatically generate patient-specific brain models using advanced image processing techniques. Using this technique, he is developing a dataset of brain models that will shed light on how the brain’s normal anatomical variation affects traumatic brain injury (TBI) risk and how the biomechanics of the brain during impact relates to the changes in the brain structures of TBI patients. Ultimately, he hopes that these patient-specific models will help improve the diagnosis and treatment of TBI. 

    “The work that Sebastian is doing is building the bridge that will link computational biomechanics and 3D medical imaging. The tools he has developed will first provide new insights into the mechanisms and outcomes of concussion in individual patients, but I think we will be able to extend these tools to other body regions and clinical applications where digital human body models are needed to develop optimal and personalized solutions for the patient,” said Matthew B. Panzer, deputy director of the Center for Applied Biomechanics, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and biomedical engineering and Sebastian’s advisor.

    Gepner’s research focuses on finite element modeling, numerical support of experiments, and massively parallel computing. His areas of interest are occupant safety, human body modeling and vehicle crashworthiness.

    “Because Bronek is both a leader in the field of computational biomechanics and an outstanding educator, he is a critical resource for our student engineers. He is patient, greatly interested in the student projects and makes himself available literally all the time.  The whole team values his skills and expertise, not just the students,” said Jason R. Kerrigan, director of the Center for Applied Biomechanics and associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and orthopaedic surgery.