Jacob Mingear and Dr. Darren Hartl receiving the Ephrahim Garcia award. | Image: Darren Hartl

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) recognized Texas A&M University aerospace graduate students Jacob Mingear and Brent Bielefeldt, undergraduate Jessica Zamarripa, and Dr. Darren Hartl with the Ephrahim Garcia Best Paper Award at the Conference on Smart Materials, Adaptive Structures and Intelligent Systems in San Antonio, Texas.

Their paper, “Towards High-Frequency Shape Memory Alloy Actuators Incorporating Liquid Metal Energy Circuits” focused on increasing the actuation frequency of shape memory alloy (SMA) actuators by using a multifunctional room-temperature liquid metal energy circuit embedded into an SMA actuator.

Jessica Zamarripa investigating the liquid metal powered shape memory alloy actuator in the lab. | Image: Igor Kraguljac

The liquid metal energy circuit can heat the SMA via induction heating, similar to the operational principle of a stove cooktop. This drives the SMA actuator to perform work. Then, cooled liquid metal can be flowed through the channel to quickly cool down the SMA actuator, readying the device for another round of actuation. At high enough actuation frequencies, SMA actuators could be able to replace heavy hydraulic or electrical motor systems in aerospace applications and elsewhere.

Hartl, an assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering, leads the team of researchers at the Multifunctional Materials and Aerospace Structures Optimization Lab.

The Ephrahim Garcia Best Paper Award was established in memory of Garcia's extraordinary contributions in scholarship, education and service to the field of smart materials and adaptive structures. Garcia passed away in late 2014 and was a leading faculty member at Cornell University. He was said to have had a “huge heart” and was a steadfast supporter of smart materials research and education. Hartl remembers him as “the kind of guy that could speak bluntly about the state of the art, but who always spoke with positive passion about our field.”