Lab News


BUilding a stronger world with composite materials

Student Spotlight: Colleen Murray

Many people spend years or even decades searching for their calling, but Colleen Murray was only 12 years old when she discovered her passion for materials engineering. She was fascinated by the surprisingly strong materials, such as fiberglass and carbon fiber laminates, that she was given to build a miniature bridge during a University of Delaware K-12 Engineering summer camp.

“I thought it was just so incredible that something so lightweight, when combined the right way, could end up creating such a stiff material that could be used for all different applications,” said Murray.

A decade later, Murray is developing sensors to keep real bridges safe as a graduate student in materials science and engineering and a researcher at the University of Delaware’s renowned Center for Composite Materials.

“This is the real power of immersion experiences in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) for young people,” according to Michael Vaughan, UD interim vice provost for diversity & inclusion and associate dean of engineering undergraduate education. “As Colleen had the opportunity to try engineering at an early age, she found her passion.   Often the most difficult thing for young learners to find is the space where their passion, talent and creativity meets the very real contribution that they want to make in our world.  It is clear that Colleen has found her passion and her broad contribution space so from this point on, her technical competency, talent and creativity will open up a world of possibilities.” (read more)

Novel sensors could enable smarter textiles

Sagar Doshi (left) and Erik Thostenson test an elbow sleeve outfitted with one of their novel sensors.

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.

Carbon nanotubes give this light, flexible, breathable fabric coating impressive sensing capability. When the material is squeezed, large electrical changes in the fabric are easily measured. (read more)

Structure health monitoring system to spot infrastructure damage

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.

The Smartenius team has developed a system to monitor the structural health of bridges using three major components: carbon nanotube-based sensors that can be placed in or on bridges, plus data acquisition hardware and data analysis software. (read more)


PROFESSOR THOSTENSON Receives Prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER award

Professor Thostenson

 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)

Professor Thostenson leads NSF Nanoscale Undergraduate Education (NUE) program

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)


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)

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)

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

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)

Read more about the University of Delaware Department of Mechanical Engineering.