Project: Self-diagnostic composites
School: Michigan State University
Location: East Lansing, Mich.
Director: Soonsung Hong

Imagine if something goes wrong with a military ground vehicle during a mission in the Iraqi deserts. Should the tank commander abort the mission or continue? Researchers at the Composite Vehicle Research Center (CVRC) at Michigan State University are working on self-diagnostic composites to help the U.S. Army make such decisions. “Having embedded sensors in these vehicles would allow the military to evaluate the vehicle’s condition immediately without getting out,” says Nicholas J. Gianaris, director of the CVRC.

Under the direction of Soonsung Hong, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, a research team is developing fiber-optic sensors embedded in smart composites as well as laser-optic diagnostic tools to detect very small flaws in composite structures, such as the chassis or body panels of a military ground vehicle. The goal is to prevent catastrophic failures of composite structures in ground, air and marine vehicles without expensive tear-down inspections, says Hong. The structure would diagnose its own health and residual life through real-time monitoring.

The work on self-diagnostic composites is just one project conducted at the CVRC, which was founded in 2007 in partnership with the U.S. Army and Navy. “The mission of the center is to support composites research and implementation of that technology on any type of vehicle for the air, ground and sea,” says Gianaris. Other areas of focus at CVRC include multi-functional composites, composite joining, design and manufacture, biomimetics, structural integrity and impact resistance.