Novel Sensors Developed in Multifunctional Composites Lab Could Enable Smarter Textiles

Sagar Doshi (black shirt, beard) and Erik Thostenson (light brown hair) from Mechanical Engineering have developed a fabric coating that contains thin, lightweight and flexible pressure sensors that can be embedded into shoes or other flexible garments.

A team of engineers at the University of Delaware is developing next-generation smart textiles by creating flexible carbon nanotube composite coatings on a wide range of fibers, including cotton, nylon and wool. Their discovery is reported in the journal ACS Sensors where they demonstrate the ability to measure an exceptionally wide range of pressure – from the light touch of a fingertip to being driven over by a forklift.

Fabric coated with this sensing technology could be used in future “smart garments” where the sensors are slipped into the soles of shoes or stitched into clothing for detecting human motion. (read more)

Research Team Aims to Commercialize Structural Sensing System to Detect Damage in Infrastructure

Left to right, Hongbo Dai, Hao Liu, Erik Thostenson and Will Johnson check out infrastructure sensors at UD’s Center for Composite Materials.

An entrepreneurial team based at the University of Delaware is working to commercialize a system that could make infrastructure such as bridges and pipelines safer. The team, called Smartenius, consists of Hao Liu (Entrepreneurial Lead), Hongbo Dai (Team Member), Erik Thostenson (Faculty Advisor) and William Johnson (Business Mentor).

Almost 40 percent of America’s bridges are 50 years or older, and 188 million daily trips happen on structurally deficient bridges, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Sometimes emergency bridge repairs can avert a crisis in the nick of time, such as the fixes to Delaware’s I-495 bridge in 2014 after engineers found cracks in its concrete and deformations in its steel piles. However, those fast repairs can be costly — in this case, $45 million for three months. (read more)

Professor Thostenson Receives Prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award

Dr. Erik Thostenson, Mechanical Engineering, and his team of researchers. (Gerard Gallo-jeans/green hoodie, Gaurav Pardey-brown sweater, Zach Melrose-blue shirt, Christine Gree-gray UD hoodie, An Qi-lots of colors, Cedric Jacob-black sweater, Matt Sinnott-green)

Erik Thostenson’s fascination with composite materials grew out of his love for downhill skiing. “I was intrigued that the performance characteristics of various skis could be remarkably different, yet the skis themselves could look identical,” he says. “The same basic materials — graphite, carbon, and Kevlar — are used in most high-tech skis, but advanced composite technology enables mogul skis to be flexible while racing skis are stiff.”

Two decades later, Thostenson is still fascinated with these high-tech materials and their almost limitless potential to be tailored for applications far beyond high-performance skis. 

Now a professor affiliated with UD’s Center for Composite Materials, he recently received a prestigious five-year, $400,000 Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to investigate a new processing approach for novel multi-scale hybrid composites with functionally graded material properties. (read more)

Professors Thostenson and Schumacher Document New Structural Health Monitoring Technique

Engineers document new structural health monitoring technique

Aging, deterioration and extreme events like earthquakes and hurricanes can take a toll on roads, bridges and other structures. With damage and defects often invisible, the search is on for systems that can monitor the health of structures and alert their owners to potential problems and even impending catastrophic failure.

Several years ago, Erik Thostenson and Thomas Schumacher, both affiliated faculty members in the University of Delaware’s Center for Composite Materials, began to explore the use of carbon nanotube composites as a kind of “smart skin” for structures. 

Now, they have improved on this approach with the addition of another technique called electrical impedance tomography (EIT), which uses surface electrode measurements to create an image of the conductivity of a material or structure. While EIT has been used as a noninvasive medical imaging technique since the 1980s, it has largely been overlooked by the structural health monitoring community. (read more)

Multidisciplinary Research Team Awarded NSF Grant for Environmentally Sustainable Construction

From left: Erik Thostenson, assistant professor of mechanical engineering; Thomas Schumacher, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering; and Jennifer McConnell, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, together near the construction of the new Academy Street Dining and Residence Hall (ASDR) for a UDaily article on monitoring the health of steel-framed buildings.

Steel is the most recycled material in the world. But there are questions as to whether structural steel can be safely reused in buildings and, if so, under what conditions.

A multidisciplinary team involving Jennifer McConnell and Thomas Schumacher in Civil Engineering and Erik Thostenson in Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science have been awarded a three-year $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to lay the foundation for a new paradigm to reuse structural steel members in contrast to recycling them.

In this project, the Multifunctional Composites Lab will investigate the use of smart sensing skins for monitoring construction-induced stresses in buildings. (read more)

Rossiny Beaucejour Earns 1st Place in Nanotechnology at the ABRCMS Conference

UD's Rossiny Beaucejour and Krittika Madadi gave winning presentations at ABRCMS, the largest professional conference for minority students pursuing science, technology, engineering and math.

Rossiny Beaucejour, who is pursuing his senior thesis in the Multifunctional Composites Laboratory presented at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) in Nashville, Tenn., last month, winning first place in Nanotechnology.

Rossiny, who is also a McNair Scholar at UD, presented a poster, “Locally Patterned Carbon Nanotubes for Bio-Inspired Sensing of Deformation and Damage in Composite Materials.” (read more)

Research Collaboration on Structural Health Monitoring with Nanotube Composites Funded by NSF

Associate Professors Erik Thostenson (Mechanical Engineering - red shirt) and Thomas Schumacher (Civil & Environmental Engineering - green shirt) are jointly developing a structural health monitoring system using carbon nanotube composites. Photographed in the Dupont Hall Structural Laboratory for a UDaily article.

In August 2007, the I-35W Bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring 145. The collapse was attributed to a design deficiency that resulted in a gusset plate failing during ongoing construction work. Now, an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the University of Delaware is developing a novel structural health monitoring system that could avert such disasters in the future.

Erik Thostenson and Thomas Schumacher have received a three-year $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to investigate the use of carbon nanotube composites as a kind of “smart skin” for structures. (read more)

Professor Thostenson leads NSF Nanoscale Undergraduate Education (NUE) program

Erik Thostenson and Tsu Wei Chou are publishing a paper on the use of carbon nanotubes in composite materials. The nanotubes serve as a nerve-like network to detect and identify cracks and weaknesses in the material by way of electrical current.

Nanomaterials are tiny but mighty, offering the potential for use in a vast array of applications from fuel cells to drug delivery systems. Their size—the diameter of a nano-fiber is approximately one-thousandth that of a human hair—underlies both their power and the challenge of harnessing that power.

“Strange things happen when materials get that small,” says Erik Thostenson, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Delaware. “Exploiting the unique properties of nanomaterials requires a highly integrated approach involving scientists and engineers from diverse fields. For engineers to be well versed in nanotechnology, it’s crucial to introduce the topic early.” (read more)

Miracle Materials: Graduate Student Student Wins Defense Fellowship to Develop Multifunctional Composites

Nanomaterials may be small, but they offer a tremendous range of properties and possible applications. Carbon nanotubes can provide the foundation for multifunctional structures that sense and heal damage within themselves while also serving other roles such as energy storage, thermal management, and electromagnetic interference shielding.

Zachary Melrose, a graduate student in the Multifunctional Composites Lab at the University of Delaware, plans to exploit that potential in his doctoral research . Melrose has been awarded a prestigious National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship to support his development of multifunctional structural composites through the selective integration of nanomaterials in composites. He is advised by Erik Thostenson, assistant professor. (read more)

Students Sweep SAMPE: Multifunctional Composites Lab takes first, second in international competition

Two undergraduate students from the Multifunctional Composites Lab at the University of Delaware won high honors at the 2011 SAMPE Student Symposium in Long Beach, Calif., May 23-26. Zachary Melrose won a first place award for his work on “Damage Sensing in Adhesively-Bonded Composite/ Steel Joints Using Carbon Nanotubes.” Sarah Friedrich earned second place for her work on the “Influence of Calendering on Carbon Nanotube/ Polymer Composites for In Situ Damage Sensing.” (read more)

Two undergraduate students from the Multifunctional Composites Lab at the University of Delaware won high honors at the 2011 SAMPE Student Symposium in Long Beach, Calif., May 23-26.

Zachary Melrose 
won a first place award for his work on “Damage Sensing in Adhesively-Bonded Composite/ Steel Joints Using Carbon Nanotubes.” Sarah Friedrich earned second place for her work on the “Influence of Calendering on Carbon Nanotube/ Polymer Composites for In Situ Damage Sensing.” (read more)

Cedric Jacob and John Gangloff win Owens Corning International Composite App Challenge

Cedric Jacob, left, and John Gangloff with their Composite App Challenge winnings.

Cedric Jacob (left), a current Ph.D. student in the Multifunctional Composites Lab, and John Gangloff (right) won the Owens Corning International Composite App Challenge. Their winning concept, an integrated structural composite fuel cell, exploits the benefits of advanced composites to lower vehicle weight, increase power output, and significantly reduce the cost of manufacturing and assembly.

Jacob and Gangloff, both current Ph.D. students in mechanical engineering, received their undergraduate degrees at UD and were both undergraduate researchers in the Multifunctional Composites Lab. (read more)