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.

    NIH Awards Caliari Lab Research Project Grant for Approach to Treating Muscle Loss Injuries

    April 26, 2021

    University of Virginia assistant professor Steven R. Caliari has received a Research Project Grant (R01) to address an understudied aspect of tissue engineering solutions for muscle loss due to traumatic injury. The award of more than $2 million from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases proposes an approach to integrating the connective and nervous tissues surrounding the injured muscle. The aim is to improve the functionality of the repaired tissues.

    The project, “Aligned and electrically conductive collagen scaffolds for guiding innervated muscle-tendon junction repair of volumetric muscle loss injuries,” will apply a 3D collagen scaffold that mimics the muscle fibers where they join tendons and other connective tissue, known as the musculotendinous junction (MTJ).

    Caliari is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering with a secondary appointment in biomedical engineering. He is collaborating on the project with George J. Christ, professor of biomedical engineering and orthopaedic surgery, and Shawn Russell, assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery and mechanical and aerospace engineering. The work builds on previous research recently published in the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Biomaterials Science, led by Ivan Basurto, a Ph.D. candidate in Caliari’s lab, with third-year chemical engineering student Gregg Gardner, biomedical engineering alumnus Mark Mora and Christ.

    Goyne Helps Lead Efforts to Modernize Hypersonic Flight

    April 19, 2021


    University of Virginia’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering professor Chris Goyne has been appointed air-breathing propulsion technical area collaboration co-lead for the University Consortium for Applied Hypersonics (UCAH). The project is part of a $100 million U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) initiative to modernize hypersonic flight capabilities.

    The University Consortium for Applied Hypersonics (UCAH) is an inclusive, collaborative ecosystem of universities working with government, industry, national laboratories, federally funded research centers, and existing university affiliated research centers. It aims to deliver the innovation and workforce needed to advance modern hypersonic flight systems in support of national defense.

    Goyne will be fielding technical and teaming questions from the consortium members and government representatives, participating with the government, federal and national labs, industry, and academia through planned engagements by the UCAH and DOD’s Joint Hypersonics Transition Office, and providing lists of potential reviewers to UCAH for whitepaper proposal review.

    Goyne has also been appointed to the UCAH Research Engagement Committee where he will lead international teaming efforts. Among others, Goyne is joined by distinguished UVA mechanical and aerospace engineering alumni Wesley L. Harris, C.S. Draper professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, who is the co-director of technical area coordination for UCAH and the chair of technical area collaboration.

    AI Neural Net Starts with Nanoscale Heat Transfer

    February 08, 2021


    C-3PO and Lt. Commander Data may be here sooner than you think.

    Scientists at UVA’s ExSiTE Lab — which focuses on heat transfer at the nanoscale (think measuring atoms) — are developing a whole new class of memory that could become the building block for simulating the way a human brain processes information.

    Third-year Ph.D. student Kuimars Aryana has recently advanced research about a new type of memory, called phase change memory, and catapulted this possibility forward. He recently published his findings in Nature Communications.

    “If we intend to do the type of data processing needed by more advanced artificial intelligence, we need a better way to process and store memory,” Aryana said. “We’ve maxed out what we can do with our current technology, it’s not enough. One of the most promising candidates for next-level data processing is phase change memory, and that’s what we’re working on.

    “Computers use two types of storage memory, ‘working’ memory, what we know as RAM, and ‘storage’ memory, what we know as SSD or our hard drive,” Aryana said. “Forty percent of the energy needed for the computer is used by the processor going back and forth between working and storage memory. Phase change memory has the potential to combine all of this into a single processing and storage unit, using significantly less energy. In our field, this type of memory design is the Holy Grail because it mimics the way human thinking works.”

    Aryana’s work is supported by Western Digital, who’s aim is to catalyze a major jump in memory technology, not unlike the jump we have already seen between a floppy disk (remember those?) and a thumb drive.

    “Kiumars started as a Ph.D. student three years ago but now he’s running the entire project and is just giving me updates. Besides making a huge impact in the field, he’s published in one of the most prestigious journals in our field as a student, that’s pretty awesome,” said Patrick Hopkins, Aryana’s advisor, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and ExSiTE lab director.

    NMCF makes the move into Research Phase II, allowing enhanced instrument access

    February 01, 2021

    The NMCF COVID Safety Plan for Research has been upgraded to Phase II occupancy levels.

    This allows increased access to NMCF instrumentation for students, faculty, and researchers.

    Several instrument spaces now allow double occupancy, with continued face covering use and maintainance of 6-ft spacing. Rooms that now allow double occupancy include spaces for: XRD, XCT, XRF, LV200 SEM, Hirox optical microscopy, sample preparation, sample cutting and polishing, Helios SEM / FIB, Zygo, and several post-processing rooms.

    More information about UVa's Phase II density levels can be found on the VPR's "Research Ramp Up Guidance" Webpage. Phase II allows select graduate students and experienced undergraduates* to return to the laboratory based on school prioritization to the essential nature of the work.

    * “Experienced Undergraduates” are students that have worked in a researcher’s lab for at least two months pre-COVID.

    Research Associate Edem Tetteh Invited to Talk on National Webcast

    January 19, 2021



    In December, UVA alumnus and research associate Edem Tetteh was invited by the mechanical engineering department chairs at Cal Tech, Georgia Tech, Princeton, and Stanford in conjunction with the American Society of Mechanical Engineering (ASME) to give a national webcast invited talk “Ice Adhesion on Various Surfaces & Flow Conditions" focusing on his research at the University of Virginia with Eric Loth and Rolls-Royce. This talk was part of the new series Future Leaders in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering: Celebrating Diversity and Innovation.

    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.