UW’s Zhang Receives NSF Award for Advanced Composite Materials Research

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Xiang Zhang

University of Wyoming College of Engineering and Physical Sciences Assistant Professor Xiang Zhang has received nearly $600,000 from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) CAREER Program to help fund his team’s research activities for the next five years.

“I almost jumped out of my chair when the program manager contacted me about this award,” Zhang says. “I am so excited that all the efforts I put into this development are recognized. I’m extremely grateful for the support and help I’ve received from my colleagues, collaborators, students, families and friends along the way.”

The award, titled “CAREER: Multiscale Reduced Order Modeling and Design to Elucidate the Microstructure-Property-Performance Relationship of Hybrid Composite Materials,” will allow Zhang’s team at the Computations for Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Laboratory to leverage their multiscale modeling and design expertise to study the fundamental microstructure-property-performance relationship of advanced composite materials and push their limits in engineering applications.

The grant is scheduled to start this August and end July 31, 2029.

Zhang says he and his team are incredibly excited and grateful for this opportunity to advance state-of-the-art research in the area of multiscale computational mechanics and mechanics of materials while integrating the research development into next-generation education and workforce development. 

“In state-of-the-art nonlinear composite microstructure modeling/design, computational costs have been identified as one of the major limiting factors, preventing the understanding of the microstructure-property-performance relationships of complex nonlinear composite materials and the application of these methods in engineering practice,” Zhang says. “This CAREER award aims to develop a seamlessly integrated education and research program to advance state-of-the-art multiscale modeling/design approaches and machine learning techniques to elucidate the microstructure-property-performance relationship of advanced composite materials and prepare the next generation with a background in composites and modeling to support the nation and state’s technology innovation in energy and various other industries.”

Through the CAREER Program, NSF provides some of the most prestigious awards to early-career faculty. These awards are designed to support individuals who show promise in becoming academic role models in both education and research. Moreover, they aim to empower recipients to spearhead advances within their respective departments or organizations.

In parallel to advancing their research, Zhang and his team will partner with UW’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, School of Computing, Advanced Research Computing Center and Innovation Wyrkshop; Idaho National Laboratory; and other industry partners to conduct a series of fully integrated research, education, outreach and workforce development efforts along with the research.

“The proposed research will be seamlessly integrated with education and outreach activities through different levels of teaching, training and workshop activities across the UW community, the Rocky Mountain area and the nation,” Zhang says. “We aim to establish a pathway for training a diverse and sustained workforce with composites expertise to meet the state and nation’s needs in high-performance composites.”

Leveraging his adjunct faculty position in the School of Computing and the unique high-performance computing resources at UW, Zhang plans to enhance students’ computational modeling skills through course study and workshop training.

“Utilizing various resources and revenues made possible by the sole four-year higher education institution in Wyoming, we plan to increase awareness and interest in composites at an early age from diverse backgrounds through training programs and outreach events at different technique levels,” he says.

Zhang teaches both undergraduate and graduate-level courses, including “Mechanics of Materials,” “Intermediate Mechanics of Materials,” “Introduction to Composite Materials,” “Introduction to Finite Element Analysis” and “Continuum Mechanics.”

His research focuses on developing advanced computational tools to understand how materials respond and evolve during their life spans, from manufacturing to service and eventually failure, with applications across different industries. He establishes extensive collaborations with researchers from various universities, national laboratories and industries.

Zhang received his Ph.D. in civil engineering from Vanderbilt University in 2017 and conducted his postdoctoral training in aerospace engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2018-19.

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