UW Ph.D. Student Wins Student Paper Award at AIAA SciTech Forum

UW Ph.D. student Sarah Hankins, who is studying mechanical engineering, recently won a student paper award at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics SciTech Forum in San Diego. (Sarah Hankins Photo)

A University of Wyoming doctoral student recently won a student paper award at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) SciTech Forum in San Diego.

Sarah Hankins, who is studying mechanical engineering, won the Harry H. and Lois G. Hilton Student Paper Award in Structures in the Aerospace Design and Structures Group Student Paper Competition.

“It is an honor to have my work recognized on such a prestigious platform for research and innovation,” Hankins says.

The AIAA SciTech Forum is the world’s largest event for aerospace research, development and technology.

Hankins, who graduated from high school in Broomfield, Colo., faced competition from national and international universities, including Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

Competitors submitted extended abstracts of their papers that were reviewed by individuals from academia and industry to determine admittance into the conference. Once accepted, the abstracts were evaluated by judges to determine the semifinalists of the student paper competition. The full manuscripts were assessed to select the remaining finalists. The final round of judging was based on prerecorded presentations, and the winners were selected from the combined scores of the manuscripts and presentations.

Hankins’ paper is titled “Bioinspired Patterns from a Generative Design Framework for Size and Topology Optimization.” The paper describes how biological and optimization algorithms can be coupled to generate application-specific microstructure geometries.

For example, Hankins’ framework is being used to design more efficient and lightweight components -- from brackets to heat exchangers -- that are vital to reducing weight penalties in aerospace applications. Hankins has been developing the computational framework throughout the course of her doctoral studies within the research group of Ray Fertig, an associate professor in the UW Department of Mechanical Engineering.

“Sarah’s work has the potential to change the way we think about engineering design and optimization,” Fertig says. “Her ability to blend creativity with competence in so many diverse fields -- ranging from solid mechanics to heat transfer to machine learning -- is truly remarkable.”

Hankins’ work is based on Turing’s theory of morphogenesis, in which patterns in nature emerge through a set of rules defined by a reaction-diffusion model. The rules can be modified such that the structures adapt to the external constraints of the environment. Hankins’ work dramatically reduces the span of the design space and enables sophisticated structural solutions regardless of the complexity or size of the problem. State-of-the-art global optimization techniques are used to tailor the nature-inspired architectures to meet the demands of real-world applications.

Practically, this work could enable cheaper, faster and more effective development of custom bio-like microstructure geometries, thereby revolutionizing bioinspired strategies as they pertain to engineering materials and design.

For more information about the AIAA SciTech Forum or the student paper competition, visit www.aiaa.org/SciTech.