University of Utah mechanical engineering assistant professor Wenda Tan received the coveted National Science Foundation CAREER Award.

This $500,000 grant allows Tan to explore a new process of laser welding known as Vibration-Assisted Laser Keyhole Welding (V-LKW). In laser welding, a laser is used to melt the components at the contacting position, and the components will join together upon the solidification of the melted portion. This process can potentially improve the welding productivity by tens and even hundreds of times compared with the conventional welding process, but it can suffer from several problems, including high porosity, coarse grains, and brittle intermetallic compounds in the joints, all of which can reduce the strength of the joint.

Tan’s research looks at how the vibration of the laser will help to solve these problems in laser welding. Experimentation and numerical modeling will be used simultaneously to investigate the fundamental physics in V-LKW.

“It is a great honor,” he said about the news of the award. “I feel thrilled that the NSF liked our proposal and the scientific value and practical importance of our idea. I also feel grateful for all the help and support that I have received from our department.”

Tan joined the U’s Department of Mechanical Engineering in 2015. He earned a bachelor’s and master’s from Tsinghua University in China and a doctorate from Purdue University, all in mechanical engineering. He is a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Welding Society.

The NSF CAREER Award is given out to faculty “who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.”

To learn more about Tan and his research visit the Laboratory of Laser-Based Manufacturing.