Project of Engineering's Marianna Maiaru Supported by $568K CAREER Grant
By Edwin L. Aguirre
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has recognized Mechanical Engineering Asst. Prof. Marianna Maiaru with the agency’s most prestigious faculty early-career development award, for research that could lead to improvements in the performance of everything from booster rockets to sports equipment.
Called the CAREER award, the designation honors professors who demonstrate strong potential to lead research breakthroughs in their institutions.
Maiaru’s work focuses on thermoset composite materials, which are advanced polymers reinforced with high-strength fibers that are used to create lightweight yet superstrong structural components for a wide range of applications – from missiles, spacecraft and satellites to commercial and military aircraft, wind turbine blades and even sports helmets.
A major technological challenge in manufacturing thermoset composites are the microscopic cracks that develop during the curing process. This curing-induced “microcracking” can weaken the composite layers or joints and lead to structural failure.
Maiaru will use her NSF funding – worth more than $568,000 over a period of five years – to conduct multiscale process modeling and experiments in the lab. Her goal is to develop crack-free thermoset composites and optimize their performance, as well as to reduce manufacturing time, cost, material waste and energy consumption while creating better composite materials, including 3D woven textiles, bonded adhesives and thermosets for additive manufacturing (3D printing).
Maiaru hopes the project will contribute to establishing U.S. leadership in advanced composites manufacturing.
“Our ability to manufacture the next generation of high-performance, lightweight, complex structures depends upon fabricating damage-free composites with enhanced mechanical properties,” she says.
Designing and analyzing composite structures is already a field of expertise for Maiaru, who earned her Ph.D. in aerospace engineering in 2014 from the Politecnico di Torino in Italy and joined the UMass Lowell faculty in 2016.
She also received a three-year, $750,000 grant from NASA to apply the concepts of ICME, or integrated computational materials engineering, to the design and manufacturing of a key composite component of the futuristic Aurora D8 aircraft.
A Broad Educational Impact
“My NSF-funded program will support graduate and undergraduate students,” says Maiaru. “Currently, I have four Ph.D. students, one undergraduate student and two postdocs in my group, and I am recruiting for the CAREER grant project.”
She also plans to integrate public educational and outreach activities for the project to enhance young students’ learning through engaging class interactions.
“We aim to broaden the participation of girls and underrepresented minorities in STEM through collaborations with the Lowell Boys & Girls Club as well as summer programs focused on engineering applications and hands-on experiments,” Maiaru says.
“We will also partner with the Urban Massachusetts Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation at UML to support students from historically underrepresented groups through paid internships,” she says.