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Transportation researchers, leaders talk composites

STARKVILLE — Researchers and leaders in the transportation industry gathered recently at Mississippi State University to explore the possibilities of a technology that the university reports is revolutionizing the design, production and use of land, air and sea vehicles.

Participants discussed how to overcome barriers using composite materials by creating partnerships that serve manufacturing needs and research interests.

Composites are making transportation modes more efficient, said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. James O. Poss, director of strategic initiatives for MSU’s High Performance Computing Collaboratory.

“Although I was an early skeptic, I now understand that composites are literally the fuel upon which all our modern vehicle systems are going to be made,” Poss said. “The low end of the job market for unmanned vehicles will be somewhere around 90,000 jobs and $40 billion; the high end is hundreds of thousands of jobs and hundreds of billions of dollars.”

Composite materials offer a range of advantages for industries, including lighter weight, higher strength, corrosion resistance and more flexible design capabilities, he said.

MSU researchers are already researching and developing composites, and significant advantages can be realized through partnerships among educational institutions, the industries producing composites and government organizations advocating composites development, said Lori Bruce, associate dean of research for the Bagley College of Engineering.

“Having industry partnerships is a big part of where we currently are and where we want to continue to move. A big part of that is making sure that we’re industry-friendly,” Bruce said.

After presentations from key composites manufacturers and MSU faculty researchers, Ratan Jha, director of the university’s Raspet Flight Research Laboratory, explained his vision for conference participants: to create a long-term partnership among composites stakeholders.

“The main goal of this gathering is to learn what industry leaders think about the research initiatives being accomplished at university level,” Jha said. “Composites are complex. You who deal with composites in industry know that very well. None of the synthesis, modeling or manufacturing for composites is straightforward.”

Jha proposed industries represented at the symposium consider forming an Industry and University Cooperative Research Program (I/UCRC) with MSU as the lead site and at least one other postsecondary institution. While the National Science Foundation would provide some start-up money, partnering industries would fund the research initiatives that would best serve their business interests.

“An I/UCRC would be the standardized mechanism for industry and universities to discuss needs, education and what the next generation of engineers will need,” he said.

Moving forward, industry representatives agreed they would discuss possible partnership plans, and MSU leaders agreed they would begin working on a proposal.

More than 70 attendees represented 16 laboratories, institutes or industries; three postsecondary institutions, including MSU, the University of Alabama and East Mississippi Community College; and seven states: Alabama, Colorado, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Tennessee, at the daylong event on the Starkville campus.


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