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Mizzou Engineering student earns international recognition

Frank Blum Jr., a civil and environmental engineering master's degree student, earned international academic recognition for his work with carbon fiber composite materials for use in hydrogen transportation and aerospace systems.

A Mizzou Engineering graduate student’s work on a new technique to test the strength of carbon fiber materials vital to advanced transportation technologies has received international recognition.

Frank Blum Jr., a civil and environmental engineering master’s degree student, took top honors Nov. 30 in a research poster contest held by the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (UCTEA) and the Chamber of Chemical Engineers in Izmir, Turkey. Blum believes the international academic recognition underscores the central role of carbon fiber composite materials in hydrogen transportation and aerospace systems.

“The award helps me realize how important this research actually is and that further research in this area is very important, as carbon fiber will be used more and more in the future,” Blum said.

Because carbon fiber composites are stronger and stiffer than steel but weigh considerably less, they often are used to reinforce gas storage tanks for space vehicles as well as the hydrogen fuel containers many believe will serve to fuel cars in the future. But no current technology exists to measure wear and tear in these materials without taking them apart, so stress-related problems may be sudden and catastrophic.

Blum’s research seeks to help solve that problem. Sponsored by the American Society for Nondestructive Testing, Blum is studying whether stress on carbon fiber composite materials can accurately be measured through a type of light analysis called Raman spectroscopy.

To lay the foundation of this technique, Blum is illuminating the carbon fiber composite material with lasers and measuring the intensity of light that the fibers reflect back at wavelengths different from that of the laser—a phenomenon known as inelastic or Raman scattering. This wavelength variation corresponds to changes within the material’s molecular bonds.

Eventually Blum aims to correlate each of those reflected wavelengths with fiber strength, creating a map that would help determine any environmental damage to the material.

Blum’s project is part of a larger research program led by his faculty adviser, MU civil and engineering Assistant Professor Glenn Washer. Washer’s research group is seeking to develop innovative ways to assess the condition of engineering materials, focusing on nondestructive technologies designed to help ensure the safety and reliability of the nation’s infrastructure.

Blum and Washer are slated to publish their research results in the Journal of Materials Science Letters within the next several months.