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Mechanical Engineering

Research Groups: Energy

Computational Flow Physics Lab

Professor Haoxiang Luo 

In the Computational Flow Physics Lab we develop computational approaches and quest after fundamental understanding of a range of fluid-flow problems, especially those involving the interaction of multi-physics.

Examples of our current focus include: (1) flow-structure interaction and low-Reynolds number aerodynamics of insect flight with application in the biomimetic, extremely agile micro air vehicles (MAV); (2) hydrodynamics of fish swimming for developing biomimetic, highly maneuverable autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV); (3) interaction of airflow and vocal folds in the larynx during voice production for understanding voice pathology and developing novel diagnostic and treatment tools; (4) electrophoresis-driven particle motions in micro-channels for design of the lab-on-a-chip devices. 

Laboratory for Advanced Materials
Professor Leon Bellan

The field of microfluidics is generally focused on fabricating devices for diagnostic purposes using traditional 2D lithographic techniques. In the Bellan Lab for Advanced Materials, we take a different approach, using a cotton candy machine to melt-spin a complex network of microfibers that can be used as a sacrificial template, yielding a “microfluidic material” containing tortuous interconnected microchannels throughout a large volume. Our research focuses both on developing an understanding of how this novel porosity affects material properties, and on demonstrating biomedical, structural, and energy related applications of microfluidic materials. The lab houses extensive fabrication and characterization facilities including a confocal microscope, a widefield fluorescence microscope, a mechanical load testing system, cell culture facilities, a plasma cleaner, several ovens, and of course a cotton candy machine. We also make use of shared facilities on campus and at national labs, and collaborate with several other research groups. Students working in the lab are exposed to a highly interdisciplinary collaborative environment that incorporates themes from mechanical, materials, biomedical, and chemical engineering. Current projects include using microfluidic networks within hydrogels to mimic a natural capillary bed for tissue engineering applications, expanding this unique manufacturing technique to additional materials systems, and characterizing the mechanical behavior of novel microfluidic structural materials.

Laboratory for the Design and Control of Energetic Systems
Professor Eric J. Barth 

The Laboratory for the Design and Control of Energetic Systems seeks to apply a system dynamics and control perspective to problems involving the control and transduction of energy. This scope includes multi-physics modeling, control methodologies formulation, and model-based or model-guided design. The space of applications where this framework has been applied includes nonlinear controllers and nonlinear observers for pneumatically actuated systems, a combined thermodynamic / system dynamics approach to the design of free piston internal combustion and external heat source engines, modeling and model-based design and control of monopropellant systems, hydraulic energy storage, small-scale boundary layer turbines, and energy-based approaches for single and multiple vehicle control and guidance.

Laser Diagnostics of Combustion Laboratory
Professor Robert W. Pitz

Using advanced laser diagnostics, chemical reactions and pollutant generation are studied in flames that simulate combustion in gas turbines, direct injection spark ignition engines, and natural gas appliances.  Chemical species and temperature are measured in laminar and turbulent flames with laser-induced Raman scattering and fluorescence.  The velocity flow fields are determined with phase Doppler anemometry and advanced molecular methods such as ozone or hydroxyl tagging velocimetry.  The laser measurements are combined with computer simulations to determine the effect of aerodynamics on combustion chemistry and mixing.  New laser methods are developed for imaging of chemical species, fluid mixing, and fluid velocity.  Extensive experimental facilities are available including burners (laminar, turbulent), electronic cameras, lasers (excimer, dye, YAG), computers, and spectrometers.

Micro/Nanoscale Thermal Fluids Laboratory

Professor Deyu Li

Research in the micro/nanoscale thermal fluids laboratory focuses on development of novel devices for energy conversion and biomedical studies. We pursue fundamental understanding of thermal and fluid transport through nanowires and nanotubes by molecular dynamics, Monte Carlo simulation and experimental techniques. The acquired knowledge is used to develop high efficiency thermoelectric energy converters and nanofluidic lab-on-a-chip devices.

Nanoscale Optics and Materials Lab
Professor Jason Valentine

In the Nanoscale Optics and Materials Lab we are researching the optical properties and device applications of metamaterials. Optical metamaterials are nanostructured composites in which artificial meta-atoms are used to engineering the properties of the material, attaining values which do not exist in Nature. We are focused on developing new types of metamaterials with reduced optical loss in the infrared and visible frequency range as well as incorporating active constituents into metamaterials such as semiconductors to enable switching, light detection, or direct energy conversion. Another focus of the lab is engineering metamaterials and associated optical antennae to serve as nanoscale heat sources. Along with fundamental studies into the optical properties, we are also focused on applying metamaterials for a range of applications including on-chip photonics, imaging, and solar energy conversion. Research in the laboratory involves both theoretical modeling as well as experimental demonstration and characterization. We are heavy users of the state-of-the-art Vanderbilt Institute of Nanoscale Science and Engineering and the center piece of the laboratory is an ultra-fast femtosecond laser system and micro-spectroscopy system which allows probing of the linear, non-linear, and time-dependent properties of materials across the entire optical spectrum.

Thermal Engineering Laboratory

Professor D. Greg Walker

The Thermal Physics Lab is dedicated to scientific discovery at the frontiers of heat transfer. Current research includes investigation of new transient thermometry using thermographic phosphors, modeling and simulation of noncontinuum energy transport in microelectronic devices, quantum energy conversion devices, radiation effects in nanostructures, and novel electronics cooling technologies. All efforts are grounded in fundamental thermo-physical processes but expand the boundaries of traditional heat transfer applications.