Patricia Weisensee, assistant professor of mechanical engineering & materials science in the McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, has received a Young Investigator Program award from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR).

Weisensee is one of 48 scientists and engineers selected as part of the program, designed to foster creative basic research in science and engineering, enhance early career development of outstanding young investigators and increase opportunities for engagement in the Air Force’s mission and related challenges in science and engineering.

With the award’s three-year grant of up to $450,000, Weisensee will develop a new laser-based method to additively manufacture, or 3D print, multifunctional composite materials. Her work focuses on high-temperature polymer composites that are both load bearing and electromagnetically shielding, making them ideal for use in airplane components or other applications that require instrumentation to be protected against radiation or thermal damage.

“Multifunctional composite materials, which combine polymers, ceramics, and/or metal, are enabling advances in key civilian and military technologies, from electric vehicles to fighter jets,” said Philip Bayly, the Lee Hunter Distinguished Professor and chair of mechanical engineering & materials science. “Patty’s work will unleash the potential of these complex materials by developing the scientific and technical basis for using them in additive manufacturing. She is one of the leaders nationally and internationally in leveraging thermal sciences to enable novel, versatile and sustainable approaches to manufacturing.”

For applications ranging from structural components for aircraft to propulsion systems to satellites, materials need to be light yet strong, able to withstand extreme environments, and compositionally graded to achieve ultimate multifunctionality. To achieve these goals, Weisensee is developing the scientific basis and proof-of-concept for laser-based 3D printing polyether ether ketone (PEEK), a semi-crystalline thermoplastic. By carefully mixing microparticles of various materials into PEEK, Weisensee aims to control the functional properties of additively manufactured components.

“I’m demonstrating how to make location-dependent composites, where we can basically put a certain amount of material in one location then inject different particles in another location on the same part and get very different functionality,” Weisensee said. “Graded materials with different functionalities in different parts open a wide array of applications. In this project, I’m working on composites for aerospace applications, but these materials would be beneficial anywhere you can imagine needing high-temperature plastics or polymers, such as in the automotive or health care industries as well as in aviation."

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