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Mechanical Engineering Student Wins Space Grant Funding

SOCORRO, N.M. January 31, 2014 – New Mexico Tech student Shelby Fellows recently learned that she will receive a $5,000 scholarship from the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium, a NASA-funded entity.

Fellows is a junior in the Mechanical Engineering Department who is conducting research with Dr. Ashok Ghosh. She has been and will continue to do research with a new material for which Dr. Ghosh has received a patent.

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Shelby Fellows, junior in mechanical engineering and recipient of a 2014 N.M. Space Grant Consortium scholarship. 

Dr. Ghosh’s invention is a composite structure that has Kevlar skin with a fluid-filled polyurethane foam core. The material may find applications in a variety of devices – from submarines and space vehicles to military helmets and bullet-proof vests.

Fellows has been doing simulations of how the material will respond to different environmental conditions. Samples of the Kevlar-polyurethane composite were subjected to various tests at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Fellows will use a scanning electron microscope to characterize the samples and ascertain if and how they have been damaged from the tests.

One of the material’s key characteristics is its ability to disperse energy – thermal, acoustic, impact and explosive/shockwave energy. The key to dispersing energy is the core layer of the polyurethane foam, Dr. Ghosh said. He said the inner structure of the foam is filled with varying sizes of spherical cells of polyurethane. A cross-section of polyurethane foam reveals larger balls, or cells, in the center, with smaller cells on the outer edges. The foam layer has impermeable faces, allowing the material to be filled with compatible fluid and sealed.

“The core layer is engineered,” Dr. Ghosh said. “The basic materials are procured over-the-counter, but subsequently engineered to do certain things. This is a unique material with unique characteristics.”

In previous semesters, Dr. Ghosh and his team of students tested the material for a variety of acoustic energy attenuation characteristics under a grant from the Office of Naval Research. Some tests were performed at New Mexico Tech and the rest at the Air Force Research Lab in Albuquerque, The team tested the material for acoustic loading.

“We are aiming to find out how this material will perform at providing shielding to astronauts or for their instruments,” Dr. Ghosh said. “Shelby is doing software work and will predict how this design of composite will function.”

Fellows graduated from Los Alamos High School. She hopes to pursue a graduate degree – perhaps in nuclear engineering – after finishing at Tech. Dr. Ghosh said he highly recommended her for the scholarship based on the high level of her classroom work and her research work.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech