Fiber-reinforced materials such as carbon, aramid and glass composites have the highest strength and stiffness-to-weight ratios among engineering materials. For demanding applications such as spacecraft, aerospace and high-speed machinery, such properties make for a very efficient and high-performance system. Carbon fiber composites, for example, are five times stiffer than steel for the same weight allowing for much lighter structures for the same level of performance. In addition, carbon and aramid composites have close to zero coefficients of thermal expansion, making them essential in the design of ultra-precise optical benches and dimensionally stable antennas. Some carbon fibers have the highest thermal conductivities among all materials allowing them to be incorporated as heat dissipating elements in electronic and spacecraft applications.
In addition to their inherently unique properties, composite materials can be tailored for specific applications and several functions can be integrated into a single structure. For example, an integrated structure requiring both high stiffness but low thermal conductivity can be manufactured using mixtures of various composites. Or, a precise satellite antenna that has both dimensional stability as well as excellent microwave performance can be constructed using specific amounts of carbon fiber. In this way, using composites, true integration of materials, manufacturing processes and design is possible. With the incorporation of sensors, fiber optics, microprocessors and actuators, a smart or adaptive structure can also be created which can alter its response to specific inputs by detecting and responding to various stimuli such as force, displacement, temperature, or humidity. Incorporating such elements into a single material can only be done through the use of composites, resulting in materials and structures with infinite variability and optimum utility.
The Major Field Advisors for each research area are listed here.