As CHESS strives to align research with education, we asked Ryan a few questions about the award and how he uses CHESS to pursue his research and educational goals.
What is your area of research?
My research group seeks to “see”, understand, and predict the mechanical behavior and failure mechanisms of geologic and brittle materials (granular materials, rocks, concrete, ceramics).
To “see” and understand these materials, we make frequent use of X-ray measurements, such as tomography and high energy diffraction microscopy,
These methods allow us to track the internal structure and stress within materials while they deform (in-situ). To predict behavior, we employ numerical models validated with our X-ray measurements and also machine learning tools trained on X-ray datasets. My NSF CAREER award research primarily focuses on studying the deformation and flow of granular materials using X-ray measurements and data analysis.
What are the broader impacts of your research?
Granular materials are the second most manipulated material on Earth, but a 2005 Science Magazine article listed “a general theory…of the motion of granular materials” as one of the 125 outstanding science questions of our time. Our research on granular materials provides the insight needed to help develop and validate the elusive theories of granular flow. Understanding basic processes in granular materials may also improve industrial powder processing techniques and our modeling of similar systems such as colloids, gels, emulsions, and glasses. As another example, concrete is the most-common construction material on Earth, and also one of the most complex structural composites.
We are making measurements of stress, strain, and failure processes in concrete that will validate theories and models that have formed the backbone of academic research on concrete mechanics for over a decade.
How does CHESS help to advance your research?
My research group makes frequent use of CHESS for X-ray measurements of granular materials and concrete. We are also working with CHESS to develop high-speed imaging capabilities that will benefit our understanding of how rocks and soils behave under dynamic impact, which has important implications in planetary science and defense. CHESS a unique, nimble synchrotron. The ability to work closely with beamline scientists makes CHESS a great place to do experiments.
How do you align your research goals with your educational goals?
My educational goals are to integrate research data into graduate coursework and to involve undergraduates and under-represented minorities in our research team.
I have achieved the first goal by including X-ray tomography and diffraction data (some of which came from CHESS) in homework assignments and projects for a graduate micromechanics course I teach in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Johns Hopkins University. To achieve the second goal, my group has hosted summer interns through the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURF) and Research Engineering Apprenticeship Program (REAP) who work with our synchrotron data on image and data processing tasks. Some of the data provided to interns also came from CHESS.
What does this award mean for the advancement of your research?
The CAREER award provides a unique opportunity to develop a strong, five-year research project on granular mechanics and flow.
The award allows me to plan long-term, to take risks in experiment design and execution, and to carefully integrate my teaching and outreach with my research.
Because a lot can change in five years, I feel that the CAREER award also provides the freedom to adapt my research as new ideas and capabilities emerge. For instance, we have already incorporated machine learning, a topic previously unexplored by my group, into our data analysis approach for the CAREER award research.