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Scientists join forces at MSU symposium

June 26, 2012


For Mark Horstemeyer, a professor and endowed chair in mechanical engineering at Mississippi State University, the question isn’t whether there are cracks in an airplane, but when those cracks will give way to a full-bore fracture and put lives at risk.

“Every plane has cracks,” Horstemeyer said. “When something breaks, when something fractures, (like) the World Trade Center, the Columbia Space Shuttle (or) a car crashing, that fracture process, that damage accumulation process, people don’t have a good idea how to predict this. If you can predict that, then you can design around it. You can design around earthquakes; you can design around tornadoes; you can design around the health and safety of an individual in a car.”

This week, such goals are at the core of MSU’s third Symposium of Predictive Science and Technology of Mechanics and Materials at the university’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems.

The symposium takes place every two years; it began with a reception Monday night at the Central Station Grill and will conclude Thursday afternoon. Douglas Bammann, another professor and endowed chair in mechanical engineering at MSU, said he and Horstemeyer began developing the symposium after he came to MSU from Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, Calif.

“I had organized several symposiums at Sandia when I was there, and so we decided to try to bring people to Starkville, to try to bring interest in what was happening here,” Bammann said. “It’s an opportunity to share knowledge, and it enhances all of our abilities if we can work together to solve problems, especially in this day of limited funding. Also, (the symposium is an opportunity) to iron out, maybe, some of the differences we have in the way we view the research.”

Horstemeyer said the symposium’s interdisciplinary nature lets attendees mutually benefit from each other’s research. For instance, he said, one guest speaker, the University of California-Davis’s Mark Rashid, specializes in atomic fractures. Another speaker, MSU’s Jim Newman, specializes in fractures on a larger scale, he said, and this symposium put the two in the same room.

“That was the first time ever those two have ever met,” Horstemeyer said. “The overall idea is to bring some of the best minds (from) all over the world (to) share their ideas with each other. A lot of these guys don’t spend a lot of time with each other in this kind of setting. We handpick the people from around the world we think are some of the best and just try to help encourage people to move beyond their current space to see how their work can influence other things.”

Bammann said business representatives are also invited, making them aware of the commercial opportunities MSU’s research affords. The symposium also makes the science community at large more aware of MSU’s research, he said, and to that end, MSU tries to bring different guests to every seminar.

“In fact, most of the people here this time haven’t been at the two previous ones,” Bammann said.

One of the guests at this year’s symposium is Curt Bronkhorst, a scientist specializing in mechanics and materials at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, the birthplace of the Manhattan Project.
“We still have a nuclear weapons mission, but as time goes on and the global threats change, we are entering more into nuclear non-proliferation and homeland security areas of work,” Bronkhorst said. “There’s a lot of work and a lot of interest in materials behavior at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and that’s why we’re here at this meeting. We’ve known (Horstemeyer and Bammann) institutionally for many years.”

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