Predicting Behavior

The demand for lightweight, durable composites is on the rise because they have exceptional strength to weight ratio. In fact, for the last 30 years, the use of polymers and polymeric-based composites in industries such as aerospace, automotive, and petroleum has exceeded that of all metals. As that demand grows, so does the need for accurate physics-based prediction methods for both the process and the final product, insuring the proper use of these high-performance materials while reducing the costs.

Dr. David Jack, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is responding to this industrial need with research focused on the modeling of physical phenomena and advancing computational design for industrial applications. Through systematic investigations that incorporate both the theoretical and experimental, Jack is working to establish facts, methods and computational tools leading to further understanding of the underlying physical phenomena of these advanced materials.

Dr. Jack came to Baylor in 2009 from Florida State University where he served as visiting assistant professor from 2007 to 2009. Prior to that, he served as post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Missouri, where in 2006 he earned a doctorate and masters in mechanical and aerospace engineering along with a second masters in applied mathematics.

Jack said the driving factor to come to Baylor was because it is a Christian university. "There was no hiding that Baylor was a Christian university and they were looking for Christian faculty," said Jack. "I had been taught in school [that] your religion and your career are separate but, at Baylor, I learned it was not the case. You don't have to disconnect your faith and your vocation. They are intricately tied together. You are one person, not two separate people."

Dr. Jack's research concentrates on the analysis and design procedures that effectively and efficiently represent the relationship between the processing conditions and the final product performance for composites fabricated from a wide variety of engineering inclusions. Spanning the component 
size spectrum from the nano to the macro his research covers industrial applications ranging from niche military aerospace multifunctional aircraft panels to large volume, low price, automotive components and to multiscale work on pipe design for the petroleum industry.

"I chose to work with composites and materials because of the challenge," Jack said. "I like that my students and I get to use high level mathematics to predict how something will behave."

Through his work, Dr. Jack and student researchers have developed approaches for physics-based predictive schemes for processing a composite product fabricated through injection, extrusion or compression molding. While there has been a wide variety of processing models developed during the last century for predicting inclusion orientation and the underlying microstructure of the final processed part, the existing models drastically over predict the alignment rate. In addition, the most effective models are formulated exclusively for rigid inclusions, neglecting flexible inclusions of current interest to the industry such as long glass/carbon fibers, carbon nanotubes, and of unique interest to Baylor, renewable coconut fibers.

Through multidisciplinary research, the models and predictive equations that Jack creates are also able to be tested. "Having ongoing research in both experimentation and physics-based constitutive modeling is a non-traditional approach," said Jack. "But, it fills a large gap common in many research communities and will allow us to jump several generations in predictive modeling."

I chose to work with composites and materials because of the challenge.

The work Dr. Jack and his students are doing has the potential to impact a number of industries. At the manufacturing level, predictive models can have a significant impact on design costs and in industries like the petroleum field, their work can increase safety by predicting the likelihood of accidents. In addition, the potential cost savings of Jack's research impacts the entire supply chain and will reduce processing and development costs, which impacts the final product cost.

Take the automobile industry for example. Better understanding of composite materials shortens the design process for a car. The composite can allow for a design with less drag and less weight, which for the consumer means not just a car that is sleek and appealing to the eye, but a car that gets better gas mileage.

Jack has a positive outlook on what the future holds for Baylor. With a passion for doctoral research, he is working as part of the mechanical engineering doctoral committee to develop a doctorate program in mechanical engineering. He also is looking forward to the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative (BRIC) and the impact it will have on Baylor and the Central Texas region.

"BRIC will be a huge boom for Baylor," Dr. Jack said. "Industrial collaboration and partnerships will not only grow technology in Waco but will provide students with real-world experience."

The BRIC will continue to foster Baylor's relationship with the Waco community and with local businesses, such as L-3 Communications, Birkeland Current and Waco Composites. As Jack explained, "The BRIC will give students hands-on experiences. They will be able to apply their book knowledge to something that is immediately useful to others. Anybody can write a math equation. But is it a useful one and what can you do with it?"

According to Jack, the collaboration that is being forged in the community has its root in the relationships and cooperation that is found across the entire Baylor campus.

"We have a very friendly environment at Baylor and we all help each other out," Dr. Jack said. "I think it is because we all have a bigger purpose for why we are here to help train and teach the next generation of Christian young men and women. Knowing that the young students you are working with today will become Christian leaders in their chosen vocation, and knowing that they will have a positive impact on society and the world, is amazing."