Texas A&M research featured in ASEE Prism

A research project led by Dr. Richard J. Malak Jr., an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, has been featured in the January 2013 issue of ASEE Prism, the magazine of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE).

The article, "Folding Frontier," focuses on origami engineering, which the writer says could be the next big thing in manufacturing.

The Texas A&M research team was recently awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant through the Emerging Frontiers of Research and Innovation (EFRI) program for this research. The grant, which is for four years, is for nearly $2 million.

Photo of Dr. Richard MalakThe research team consists of Malak (pictured), who is the principal investigator; co-principal investigators Dr. Dimitris Lagoudas (aerospace engineering), Dr. Nancy Amato (computer science and engineering), Dr. Ergun Akleman (Department of Visualization); Dr. Daniel McAdams (mechanical engineering); and Dr. Darren Hartl (aerospace engineering).

In the article, writer Don Boroughs says:

"The Texas A&M team is working with a material so complex that the engineers occasionally have to laugh at the difficulty of the task before them. In fact, they still have to invent it. But the computer models developed by aerospace engineer Darren Hartl show great promise for a sandwich of two sheets of shape-memory alloy — prestressed to fold in opposing directions — separated by an insulator. A switched resistor network pattern, like a programmable version of the defrosting wires embedded in an automobile’s rear window, will trigger the bending action. With no hinges limiting the position of creases, the massively foldable sheet could theoretically take one of an infinite variety of shapes, unfold, and then refold into something completely different. In a simulation recently published by Hartl, mechanical engineer Richard Malak, and their colleagues, the sheet becomes an airfoil to steer a spacecraft to a landing on Venus, and then curls into a cylinder to roll on the planet’s surface."

Malak said the research objective of the NSF grant is to discover new techniques for synthesizing complex 3-D structures from programmable, self-folding 2-D elements. This will be made possible by the incorporation of active shape memory layers that provide actuation capabilities.

If successful, the results of this research will constitute a substantial leap forward in engineering technology and knowledge, allowing engineers to design complex systems in fundamentally new ways.