Grainger Engineers Bring Home Four MURI Awards

5/16/2023 Jenny Applequist

Written by Jenny Applequist

<em>Matlack project concept: a future aircraft with bespoke materials (top) improving on the performance of today’s aircraft (bottom).</em>
Matlack project concept: a future aircraft with bespoke materials (top) improving on the performance of today’s aircraft (bottom).

The Department of Defense has announced 31 grants totaling $220 million in support of basic research projects as part of its fiscal year 2023 Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) program—and UIUC stood out on the list of winners. With six awards, UIUC tied MIT for the largest number of successful MURI proposals. Four of UIUC’s six MURIs are in the Grainger College of Engineering:

  • “Fluid‐Metamaterial‐Interaction to Revolutionize Passive Control of Aerodynamic Flows” will be UIUC-led, with Kathryn Matlack, an assistant professor of Mechanical Science & Engineering (MechSE), serving as principal investigator. Other participating UIUC faculty include Phillip AnsellAndres Goza, and Theresa Saxton-Fox, all of Aerospace Engineering.
  • “HyDDRA: Hybrid Dynamics ‐ Deconstruction and Aggregation” will also be UIUC-led, with Yuliy Baryshnikov, professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering (ECE) and Mathematics, as principal investigator. Other participating UIUC faculty include Eugene Lerman (Mathematics) and Sayan Mitra (ECE).
  • UIUC faculty Ying Diao (Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering) and Axel Hoffmann (Materials Science & Engineering) will participate in “Elucidating Interplays of Chirality and Spin in Chiral Assemblies,” led by North Carolina State University.
  • UIUC faculty Harley Johnson (Mechanical Science & Engineering) and Minjoo Larry Lee (ECE) will participate in “Hosting One‐Dimensional Topological States with Dislocations,” led by the University of Michigan.

All four of the awards are being sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

Kathryn Matlack
Kathryn Matlack

Kathryn Matlack’s project, housed in MechSE, will study how various classes of “mechanical metamaterials”—certain engineered materials that have properties not found in naturally occurring materials—interact with the dynamics of turbulent flows. The purpose is to determine the effects these materials would have on turbulent flows around aircraft, with the goal of improving vehicles’ energy requirements and flight envelopes.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to establish this new field,” Matlack said. “It’s completely unknown how to get desirable behaviors in mechanical metamaterials to ‘talk’ to the fluid, i.e., to meaningfully and beneficially interact with turbulent flows. This is a fundamental aspect we’ll deeply probe in this program.” 

Matlack’s MURI project will leverage the results of an earlier collaboration funded through the Grainger College of Engineering’s Strategic Research Initiative. That project created a computational and experimental framework with which to study the use of phononic crystals for flow control. In the new effort, that framework will be extended to examine a broader class of materials and flow problems.

Yuliy Baryshnikov’s HyDDRA project, housed in the Coordinated Science Lab, will develop mathematical formalisms for examining a class of dynamical systems known as hybrid systems. The new formalisms will account for both continuous evolution, driven by underlying physical models, and abrupt changes, caused by control switches. The result will be richer analysis of the hybrid dynamics found in, for example, cyber-physical systems, crowd behavior, and brain activity. 

<em>Yuliy Baryshnikov</em>
Yuliy Baryshnikov

The current hybrid systems formalisms have evolved over decades as an accretion of upgrades and patches that do not adequately support analysis of target systems. According to HyDDRA co-principal investigator Sayan Mitra, “The concepts and tools from this project will become the basis for addressing important questions about safety, stability, and communication complexity.”

Diao and Hoffmann will investigate a mystery: the unknown reason why certain materials that have structural “chirality”—a kind of asymmetry that can be thought of as “handedness”—acquire a net magnetic moment, in effect a circular electrical current, when an electrical current is passed through them. 

Since today almost all digital data are stored in magnetic materials, important benefits may result from gaining a better understanding of the effect. However, Diao notes that the phenomenon is ubiquitous in biological systems as well. “Probing the mechanism of this phenomenon will not only lead to new information technologies,” she said, “but could also help uncover the rules of life!”

Finally, Johnson and Lee’s project will explore dislocations—defects that occur in crystalline materials—as possible conductors in otherwise electrically insulating material. 

“In particular, we are focusing on quantum conduction in topological insulators, which is to say that we are looking for defects that provide extremely efficient conduction in otherwise extremely insulating materials,” explained Johnson. “This is very exciting for possible next-generation quantum electronic and spintronic devices, which could help enable quantum computing.”

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This story was published May 16, 2023.