Matlack, Wissa collaborate with researchers at Wright-Patterson


Taylor Tucker

Assistant professors Katie Matlack and Aimy Wissa were both awarded faculty fellowship research grants this past summer at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.

The Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) Summer Faculty Fellowship Program allows faculty and their students to do research residencies at participating bases while collaborating with AFRL researchers.

Aimy Wissa.
Aimy Wissa.
Matlack and one of her students spent eight weeks on the base. During this time, they worked to develop new active metamaterials, i.e. materials that are engineered to have properties that are not naturally occurring. Matlack’s focus was on creating metamaterials with tunable vibration transmission.

She said she enjoyed the opportunity to build connections while collaborating with Wright-Patterson researchers. “On a typical day, I spent a lot of time working directly in the lab, running experiments, or fabricating samples,” Matlack said. “I met with researchers and discussed research ideas and directions with them.”

By the end of her eight weeks, Matlack not only had made progress toward the advancement of the metamaterials, but also had a better understanding of ways in which research thrusts within Air Force labs align with research here at Illinois. She is currently in the process of publishing her results from the summer’s study.

For Aimy Wissa, the 2018 fellowship was her second time working at Wright-Patterson. She spent 10 weeks there with two students, working on a study entitled, “Adaptive and Compliant Wingtip Devices enabled by Additive Manufacturing and Smart Materials.”

Katie Matlack.
Katie Matlack.
Unlike the fixed tips on the wings of an airplane, birds’ wingtips have feathers that can bend and twist, as well as change angles relative to each other to create a slotted surface. The goal of Wissa’s research was to determine whether implementing a segmented and adaptive wingtip device inspired by feathers would improve the flight performance of unmanned air vehicles.

Her group’s research was divided into focusing on three key aspects of the wingtip devices. The group analyzed the aerodynamic effects through modeling and wind tunnel testing. They also designed and 3D-printed composite beams that could bend and twist under aerodynamic loading. The beams were then tested experimentally and analyzed using finite element analysis. Lastly, bistable structures were designed to control the spacing between different wing segments while minimizing the actuation requirement.  

By the end of the fellowship, Wissa’s group showed that implementing the adaptive wingtip devices causes lift enhancement in the aircraft’s performance. Through both experiment and analysis, they also demonstrated the feasibility of passively coupling the bending-torsion response of the composite wingtips. Their results were recently published and they are preparing several publications with AFRL collaborators.

Both Wissa and Matlack appreciated the opportunity the fellowship provided their students for networking and experience outside of campus.

“On campus, students get trained to do classes and work in the labs, and experience research in an academic setting,” Wissa said. “At Wright-Patterson, they get to experience a different environment for conducting research, so they learn to adapt and also discover which environment might align more with their career plans.”

Both professors also valued the connections they made during their time on base.

“The connections with the people at the Air Force Research Lab were the most important aspect of the fellowship,” said Matlack, who plans to continue her work with collaborators at the base.

“For me, the fellowship increased and strengthened those networks I have with the researchers at the Air Force Research Lab,” Wissa said. “You get great outcomes both technically and professionally, and I think that’s what’s really powerful about this fellowship.”

Graphical summary of Wissa's research during her fellowship.
Graphical summary of Wissa's research during her fellowship.