Air Force Dubs UTEP Engineer Promising Young Investigator
January 26, 2015 | UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS
The Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) has named Pavana Prabhakar, Ph.D., assistant professor of mechanical engineering at The University of Texas at El Paso, as an exceptional young investigator. The designation comes with a three-year, $360,000 grant from AFOSR's Young Investigator Research Program.
With the funds, Prabhakar will study and design novel structural materials for use in aircraft, spacecraft and automobiles. Her goal is to create lightweight materials that are stronger and more energy-conserving than current products on the market.
"By making these structures lighter, you can minimize energy use," the engineer explained. "But the problem is these lighter materials tend to fail prematurely; they are not very strong, especially upon impact."
Prabhakar will work specifically with composites, materials that are created from two or more different components that are bonded together. She hopes that by making the fuse, or "glue," between the materials stronger, the overall strength of the structure will be enhanced.
"Imagine stacking pieces of paper on top of each other," she said. "We're going to be working with the glue that you use between each sheet to make the overall structure durable."
The material will undergo virtual testing before it is 3-D printed in UTEP's W.M. Keck Center for 3-D Innovation. Upon completion, further tests will be done to measure strength, pressure-resistance and other features.
Prabhakar received a doctoral degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan and a master's in civil and environmental engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.
The Young Investigator Research Program supports scientists and engineers who show exceptional ability and promise for conducting basic research and who have received a doctoral degree in the last five years. The program fosters creative, basic research in science and engineering; enhances early career development; and increases opportunities for the young investigator to recognize the Air Force mission and related challenges in science and engineering.