The department of mechanical engineering welcomes tenure-track faculty member, Dr. Michael Czabaj (pronounced chah-by). Czabaj joins the department after spending four years at NASA Langley Research Center, where he was a materials research engineer in the renowned Composites Group of the Durability, Damage Tolerance, and Reliability Branch. Prior to his position at NASA, Czabaj received a B.S. in aerospace engineering from Syracuse University in 2004 and a Ph.D. in theoretical and applied mechanics from Cornell University in 2010.    

So, what exactly are composite materials? As Czabaj explains, “they are material systems comprised of two or more constituent materials that, when combined, can exhibit remarkably superior properties than those of the individual constituents. In nature, examples of composites include bone and rock (e.g. granite).” Czabaj’s specialty area is in engineered composites, namely fiber-reinforced polymer matrix composites, which are widely used in the aerospace industry. Interestingly, he notes, “My passion for composites started when I was about nine years old. One of the first model airplanes that I built was reinforced with fiberglass and epoxy, and I didn’t realize until many years later that those same composite materials were actually used on real airplanes.”

Czabaj’s research projects at the U include a NASA-funded investigation to characterize and model 3-D-printed nanotube-reinforced composites. In this work, Czabaj and his graduate student, Devin Young, are using novel experiments to help scientists at NASA understand how to best reinforce 3-D-printed parts to maximize their structural performance. Concurrently, Czabaj is pursuing several projects related to the use of high-resolution X-ray computed tomography (CT) to image the microstructure, flaws, and damage in advanced aerospace materials, including polymer and ceramic matrix composites. “X-ray based imaging of materials has been around for a very long time” explains Czabaj, “but recent developments in 3-D computed tomography have completely revolutionized the way in which we examine advanced composite materials.”

In March of this year, Czabaj spent a week conducting X-ray CT experiments on ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Advanced Light Source, a state-of-the-art synchrotron facility. The CMCs were heated to 1,200°C and exposed to an oxygen-rich environment. “We expose these materials to the types of extreme environments that we expect for next-generation turbine-engine blades” says Czabaj, “and at the same time, we can observe — in near real time — their degradation and ultimate failure!”

Outside of work, Czabaj enjoys spending time enjoying the multitude of outdoor activities the state has to offer. Plus he is quite passionate about photography and never goes anywhere without his trusty Nikon.

Learn more about Professor Czabaj, his research, and his group by visiting the Utah Composite Mechanics Laboratory.

The Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah is committed to providing students with broad-based, rigorous and progressive education. By combining state-of-the-art facilities with renowned faculty, the department provides an education that gives students the necessary skills to become the next generation of innovators.