Polymer Science and Engineering Team Scores at National Science Competition

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The PSE BASF competition team, from left: Jaejoon Kim, Shruti Rattan, coach Qinling Zhang, Feyza Dundar and Victor Champagne.

A team of student researchers representing the department of polymer science and engineering (PSE) won second prize in August at the national 2017 BASF Science Competition, which challenged participants to solve a vexing problem facing manufacturers of the next generation of automotive body panels.

The PSE team, which proposed a technical solution to a surface roughness problem in carbon fiber composite car body panels, included Ph.D. students Shruti Rattan and Feyza Dundar, postdoctoral researcher Jaejoon Kim, and undergraduate researcher Victor Champagne.

Few cars today are built with carbon fiber composite body panels, but engineers expect that within a decade or so they will replace most steel and aluminum panels because they are stronger and lighter and therefore increase fuel economy.

But, because the carbon fiber and the polymer matrix that surrounds it expand and contract at different rates with temperature changes, the painted surface of the panels has a roughness that does not exhibit the “Class A” finish appealing to consumers.

The BASF competition is an annual event challenging doctoral students and young academic researchers from North American universities to contribute to the solution of a global challenge. This year, the competition focused on developing innovative solutions to achieve that Class A surface finish.

Of teams offering proposals in April, four were chosen to present and defend their ideas on Aug. 23 at the BASF Advanced Materials Innovation Center in Southfield, Michigan.

The PSE team proposed adding a layer of soft elastomer – material that stretches to many times its original length but returns to its original shape without permanent deformation ­– between the carbon fiber and the polymer matrix to compensate for the thermal shrinkage

Rattan said the UMass Amherst group had the advantages of varied expertise among its members, and encouraging results from computer simulations and laboratory experiments on model materials before the final presentation in Michigan.

Ours was the only team with strong supporting research evidence for our proposed technical solution and a thorough evaluation of business attractiveness and market potential,” she said.

Each team was assigned a scientific coach from BASF. The PSE team’s coach was Qinling Zhang, a PSE alumnus and and senior group leader – automotive OEM coatings at BASF. “We had biweekly meetings with him, and he played a key role in refining our presentation for the competition,” Rattan said.

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