By Carla Calandra
Assistant Professor Dianyun Zhang (IMS/ME) is developing a multi-scale and multi-physics model for fiber-reinforced composite materials to understand how the manufacturing process affects the material properties at the end of each manufacturing cycle. The key components of the project encompass resin characterization, processing modeling of the curing process, and coupling the influence of microstructure to the structural performance of advanced composites. This integrated computational tool can predict the residual stress, dimensional change and strength of composite parts after the manufacturing process. Such a predictive model can be used to optimize the composite laminate design and fabrication process for desired structural performance. Weight reduction is significant across a variety of industries that deal with vehicle technologies, especially under the competitive pressure to develop more efficient and sustainable vehicles with reduced CO2 emissions. As a result, there will be an inevitable increase in the use of composites for structural applications owning to the weight and life-cycle cost savings they provide. The outcome of her research on the virtual simulation of composites can facilitate the exploration and fabrication of new lightweight materials by dramatically reducing the cost of physical prototyping and shortening the product development cycle.
Inspiration for the field came early on her college career. She participated in “an independent study with Professor Anthony Waas (Aerospace Engineering Department, University of Michigan) to investigate the mode shape of an insect wing. “I enjoyed the time in conducting the experiments, and was astonished by the beautiful mode shapes of an insect wing, which coupled with bending, twisting, and axial loads. I found great interest in the mechanics of aerospace structures. Later, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. degree and conduct research in this field.” Dr. Zhang earned her Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan in 2014. Thanks to Professor Waas, “I had been truly inspired by his numerous innovative ideas, enthusiasm for solving engineering problems, and passion for teaching and research through my studies at the University of Michigan. He instilled in me what it means to be an excellent researcher, engineer, and instructor.”
Currently, she is working with two graduate students, Weijia Chen and Rui Li. Dr. Zhang claims that the “Institute of Materials Science offers outstanding material characterization facilities. The experimental analysis is important for model validation and enhancement,” which is what attracted her to UConn.
Teaching has been a very rewarding experience for Dr. Zhang. “I believe that my knowledge and experience accumulated as a researcher only becomes valuable and meaningful once shared with others. What I am trying to instill in my students is the confidence and passion to be an engineer.” She advises students and aspiring engineers to “be patient when things go wrong.”