It is the culmination of the study of controls, fluid dynamics, structural dynamics, and materials science that make up aerospace engineering as a whole. What makes the AIMS Lab unique is that our research embraces many of these fields. Overall, we strive to develop innovative and novel solutions to complex aerospace engineering dilemmas via smart materials and structures but we take a multidisciplinary approach by working at the intersection of simulated and experimental structural dynamics. Ultimately, this applies to a wide variety of research including energy harvesting, structural damping, and aircraft morphing.
As aerospace structures become lighter and more flexible, vibration levels become an issue. Accordingly, engineers are in a persistent battle to reduce vibrations in the structures we build. While typically harmless, they are capable of causing catastrophic failure and putting civilian lives at risk. In order to mitigate these unwanted vibrations the structure is damped, frequently by adding rubber-like damping material or transferring the vibrational energy to a separate oscillator designed to vibrate at a specific frequency. This can add substantial mass to the structure which can be undesirable in certain situations.Our research within structural damping aims at minimizing these caveats through new designs and active control by distributing the vibration suppression throughout the structure.
Frequently we employ 3d printed metastructures, a structure where unique combinations of material geometries and properties, are integrated into a host structure on a centimeter to micrometer scale to achieve a specific dynamic response. We focus on achieving this through variable stiffness mass-spring oscillators, actively controlled oscillators using smart materials, and structural mass-spring optimizations in many instances with no additional mass. This includes analyzing the response of the structure in extreme environments such as high temperature and pressure.
While vibrations can frequently be undesirable, engineers can also put them to good use by harvesting kinetic energy. This can be beneficial in many aerospace applications, as these minor structural vibrations can generate enough power for a low-powered on-board sensor. Typically, piezoelectric materials are used as harvesters which convert strain energy to electric energy. By coupling these smart materials with vibrating systems in unique manners, we can more effectively harvest vibrational energy.
Our projects within energy harvesting have focused on a wide variety of topics including piezoelectric grass and a dual harvesting-sensing aircraft spar for gust alleviation. Most recently, our research has delved into broadband energy harvesting over a range of frequencies using multi-stable harvesters. Overall, we frequently use complex geometries such as zig-zag beams, and are able to effectively condense cantilevered harvesters to achieve low-frequency harvesters.
The field of morphing aircraft is expanding rapidly as research into sensor networks and smart materials advance in unison. This allows for smooth complex shape changes within the aircraft while monitoring the state of the entire structure. typically, morphing is implemented for drag reduction, increased maneuverability, and adaptability but its capabilities can encompass an even wider spectrum. Using smart materials, we aim to minimize weight and reduce the complexity of morphing aircraft designs.
Thus far, our research has focused on quantifying the aerodynamic benefits of morphing with respect to aircraft adaptation to a multitude of different off-design conditions through both aeroelastic simulations and experiments. This includes optimizing the spanwise configurations for both linear and nonlinear aerodynamics and testing the configurations in the 5’ x 7’ wind tunnel at the university of michigan. recently, we have developed novel methods of integrating multiple smart materials into wing structures to augment tip deflections, actuate over multiple time scales, and achieve complex camber variation. motivated by avian studies and in concert with several other universities we are currently investigating new morphing shapes to improve efficiency of unmanned aircraft.