Q&A with MTU Research Award winner Gregory Odegard

The 2021 Michigan Tech Research Award winner develops ultra-powerful composite materials for crewed space missions.

Composites are very similar to their sound: materials made up of different substances. Their components can improve their overall strength, toughness, weight, and other properties such as electrical conductivity. For example, deep space exploration requires composites that are both lightweight but incredibly strong.

That’s why Greg Odegard got into carbon.

Odegard holds the John O. Hallquist Chair in Computational Mechanics in the Department of Mechanical Engineering-Mechanical Engineering at Michigan University of Technology. He also directs the NASA Institute for Ultra-Strong Composites by Computer Design (US-COMP) and the Tech Forward initiative for advanced materials and manufacturing. Odegard specifically studies ultra-long composites based on carbon nanotubes, and he points out that not all carbons are created equal. Although all sporting a large C chemically, flexible sheets of graphite differ in the stiff strength of diamond and the flexibility and electrical properties of graphene.

In its many forms, carbon can work in many ways – and the tricky part with composites is understanding how different materials interact. Computer simulation is a modern alchemy, and Odegard uses modeling to predict which materials to combine, how many, and whether they will withstand the depths of space.

“Dr. Odegard has had a significant impact in the field of composite materials research through his pioneering work using computer modeling techniques that link the influence of molecular structure on mass properties.”Janet Callahan, Dean of the College of Engineering

Q: What is the overview of your research?

GO: Developing new materials for aerospace applications is very expensive and time consuming. My team uses computer simulation to facilitate this process so that we can quickly design, characterize and produce these new materials.

Q: What is the main focus of your work at the moment?

GO: We are using computer simulation to help develop the next generation of composite materials for deep space crewed missions. We are working with a large multi-university team on a NASA project to design, develop and test these new materials. This work is part of the NASA Institute for Ultra-Strong Composites by Computational Design (US-COMP), which received a $ 15 million grant in 2017.

Q: Where did you get inspiration from for the project?

GO: NASA is moving part of its research axes from low Earth orbit to deep space exploration. To enable deep space missions with crews, NASA researchers understand they will need new building materials for vehicles, habitats, and power systems that are lighter and stronger than those available today. I am very happy to be able to use the computer simulation expertise of my team to help NASA develop these materials.

Q: How did your methods contribute to the success of the project?

GO: We have been able to help the material suppliers for these composite materials, mainly resin and carbon nanotube manufacturers, understand the strengths and weaknesses of their materials. We also helped them understand how to improve their materials for better performance.

Research statistics

  • 104 journal publications
  • Over four dozen graduate and doctoral students
  • 907 citations on the most cited article
  • Over $ 21 million in research funding

Q: What interests you most about your job?

GO: Without a doubt, I enjoy working with my graduate students and the larger team at US-COMP the most. Our entire team is excited about the research and our progress, making it some of the best research meetings I’ve had in my career. As we get closer to our research goals, the team becomes more and more enthusiastic and engaged.

Q: Who benefits from the research?

GO: Not only are NASA and the composite materials industry benefiting from this research, but there is another benefit to the work of US-COMP that I recently observed. With our large team and frequent interactions, I think we have helped create a new paradigm in large-scale interactions. We have transformed our team, which is scattered across the country from several universities and government labs, into a tight-knit group that meets daily to solve an extremely complex problem. I like to see it as a modern Manhattan project for composite materials.

“The international recognition of Dr. Odegard’s sustained productive research efforts and pioneering computer modeling research techniques exemplify the high level of research achievement here at Michigan Tech.Bill Predebon, Director of the Mechanical Engineering-Mechanical Engineering Department

Q: What are the challenges you have faced?

GO: The most important lesson I’ve learned is that the key to success in large projects is consistent and engaging communication. As the leader of a large project, I have learned that my most important job is to make sure that all researchers, students and program managers actively communicate with each other about their progress, their obstacles. and their needs. Even though that means I have to attend countless meetings to facilitate this conversation, it is a necessary requirement of a leader for the project to be successful.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, serving more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics and social Sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.


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