Engineering Professors Win Top Composites Research Awards

23 September 2007

Two University of Delaware researchers have won major awards from the American Society for Composites (ASC).

Jack R. Vinson, H. Fletcher Brown Professor Emeritus of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, is the recipient of the 2007 ASC Outstanding Research Award, and Erik T. Thostenson, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is the winner of the Elsevier Young Composites Researcher Award. The awards were conferred at ASC's 22nd Annual Technical Conference, held from Sept. 17-19 at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The Outstanding Research Award is given annually to “a distinguished member of the composites community who has made a significant impact on the science and technology of composite materials through a sustained research effort over a number of years.” The Elsevier Award, given for the first time in 2007, recognizes “members of the composites community who early in their career have made a significant impact on the science and technology of composite materials through a sustained research effort.”

Vinson, who joined the University of Delaware faculty in 1964, is credited with teaching one of the first composites courses in the nation in 1969. In 1974, he became the founding director of the University's Center for Composite Materials. CCM is now an internationally recognized centre of excellence for composites manufacturing science and technology.

Tsu-Wei Chou, Pierre S. du Pont Chair of Engineering, said, “For half a century, Dr. Vinson has made remarkable contributions to advancements in fibre composites, owing to his unique expertise in the mechanics of structures composed of anisotropic materials.”

Chou also noted Vinson's contributions in educating generations of engineering students with advanced degrees who are now engaged in cutting-edge R&D in composites.

Vinson spent 10 years in industry before beginning his academic career, doing R&D work at the Aeronautical Research Laboratory of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the Missile and Space Vehicle Department of General Electric and other companies. At Delaware, his work has focused on structural mechanics of plates and shells, thin-walled structures and sandwich structures.

In addition to reporting his research results in more than 220 archival journals and conference papers, Vinson has authored or co-authored seven graduate-level textbooks on structural mechanics and mechanics of composites, which have been extremely well-received by students and researchers all over the world. One of his books, The Behavior of Structures Composed of Composite Materials, recently went into a third printing.

An active member of several professional societies, Vinson also has encouraged and facilitated the participation of his students in these organizations.

“Besides his innovative ideas in fundamental research,” Chou said, “I have been most impressed by Jack's energy, dedication and tireless effort in promoting the application of composites technology.”

Thostenson, who completed his master's degree in mechanical engineering in 1999 and his doctorate in materials science and engineering in 2004, both at the University of Delaware, also earned a bachelor's degree in composite materials engineering from Winona State University in Minnesota. The program is the only undergraduate program in the country focusing on composites.

According to Chou, Thostenson's adviser and mentor, the young researcher's experience in the field of composites is very diverse, encompassing synthesis and processing of materials, advanced characterization techniques and development of models to predict material behaviour.

Thostenson and Chou recently were cited for their discovery of a means to detect and identify damage within advanced composite materials by using a network of tiny carbon nanotubes, which act in much the same manner as human nerves. That work is an outgrowth of research that the pair has been conducting in carbon nanotubes for the past several years.

Thostenson's publications have been cited widely--nearly 750 times as of July 2007. His original work in modeling the elastic properties of carbon nanotube-based composites, published in 2003, has been cited by others 56 times.

“That manuscript marked an important step in understanding the mechanical behavior of nanomaterials,” Chou said. “Unlike prior modelling efforts in nanotube-based composites, where atomistic simulations on highly idealized systems had been employed, Erik's approach adopted mechanics-based models for realistic nanocomposite systems and supported the calculations with careful experimental measurements.”

Thostenson has been the recipient of several other prestigious awards, including UD's 2004 Allan P. Colburn Award for outstanding dissertation in the engineering and mathematical sciences. In addition, he received the inaugural Hayashi Memorial International Award from the Japanese Society of Composite Materials, recognizing outstanding young international researchers in the field of composites, as well as the Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering (SAMPE) Outstanding Ph.D. Student Award.

“These awards are particularly significant since they are based on technical merit as judged by others in the field of advanced materials,” Chou said.

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