A Baylor graduate student recently earned a scholarship award from the Society of Plastics Engineers for her research on nondestructive testing methods for fiber-reinforced, laminate composites.
Sarah Stair, a second-year graduate student in mechanical engineering, was one of three students selected by the organizing committee for the SPE Automotive Composites Conference & Exhibition (ACCE) for the group’s annual SPE ACCE Scholarship Awards for the 2013-2014 academic year. The award was based on her research project, “Non-Destructive Characterization of Ply Orientation and Ply Type of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Laminates.”
Stair says advanced composite parts are composed of many layers or “plys,” which are lined up in a particular way so that the finished part has the strength and rigidity necessary to accomplish its function. While engineers can make predictions about the final part’s strength based on its design, imperfections in the final manufactured product can create sections with unknown properties.
That’s where Stair’s research comes in.
“When manufacturing composite products, the manufactured parts don’t always meet as-designed specs,” says Stair, who earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Baylor in 2012. “For example, during molding, a ply might slip and rotate from its designated orientation, which could affect the properties of the manufactured part. My research will determine the ‘as-manufactured’ orientation of each lamina in a fiber-reinforced part and the failure envelope associated with the manufactured part.”
Stair’s long-term plan is to develop a hand-held device that technicians can use to determine the failure envelope of an installed part without having to remove it from the car or airplane where it is in use. Such a device could be extremely helpful to automotive or aerospace repair technicians, as well as to quality-control personnel working for companies that manufacture composite parts.
The SPE scholarship is the latest in a long line of awards Stair has earned for her research. She was a top-four finalist in the best paper/presentation category at the American Society for Composites’ Annual Technical Conference. She also earned a prestigious graduate travel grant from the National Science Foundation to present her work at the American Society for Mechanical Engineering’s International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition. Stair was one of only 45 students to receive the NSF award from a pool of 750 applicants.
Dr. David Jack, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in Baylor’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, is Stair’s research mentor. He says that because of the high quality of Stair’s research and her advanced presentation skills, awards like these are anything but surprising.
“Sarah is working on her master’s degree, but she routinely wins awards where she’s competing against doctoral students,” says Jack. “At conferences, people who hear her presentations always ask me if she’s a doctoral student or post-doctoral researcher. She’s a great ambassador for our graduate program.”