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Chawla Research Group

Engineering research aims to strengthen national defense systems

July 26, 2013 – Two Arizona State University engineers will have important roles in major new research projects aimed at producing technological advances considered critical to enhancing the nation’s military defense systems.

Nikhilesh Chawla and Nongjian Tao are members of separate research teams that recently earned grants from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research through the U.S. Department of Defense Multi-University Research Initiative (MURI).

Chawla is the Fulton Professor of Materials Science and Engineering in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Tao is a professor in Fulton Engineering’s School of Electrical, Computing and Energy Engineering, and director of the Center for Bioelectronics and Biosensesors at ASU’s Biodesign Institute.

Chawla will work on a project to develop advanced methods of predicting the onset of cracking and other damage to the primary materials used in the construction of military aircraft and sea craft. The team will also seek ways to improve the resiliency of the materials.

Along with Chawla, the project joins mechanical engineers, mathematicians and theoreticians at the University of Texas at San Antonio, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Arizona, which is the lead institution for the endeavor.

The MURI grant provides $7.5 million for the five-year project. ASU is to be allotted $1 million.

Competition for MURI grants is intensive, with multi-university teams of members from the science and engineering programs of leading research institutions typically vying for support.

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research received 28 full MURI grant proposals for the program’s 2013 awards. Only seven teams’ proposals were selected for funding.

Chawla’s role on his team will involve quantifying how and where fractures and other forms of material degradation originate at the microstructural level. He’ll use advanced X-Ray tomography to get a microscopic view of the characteristics of materials behavior, a method designed to yield information on which to base mathematical predictions of when and where materials will incur damage under varying conditions.

The focus will be on the kinds of metal alloys used for military vehicles and equipment, and other defense-systems hardware. The work will be done in Chawla’s 4-D Materials Science Laboratory, a facility operated under the umbrella of ASU’s Security and Defense Systems Initiative (SDSI).

MURI grants are intended to provide opportunities for graduate students to participate in cutting-edge research. Chawla’s lab team will include material engineering doctoral students Tyler Stannard and James Mertens, along with assistant research scientist Jason Williams.

Chawla has extensive experience doing materials research for defense systems. He has worked on projects funded by Department of Defense programs to develop advanced methods for protecting military ships and other craft from corrosion and other types of damage due to environmental and battlefield impacts.



Joe Kullman,
(480) 965-8122
Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering