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E-Beam Research Lab Established

A New Laboratory for Research on Electron Beam Curing of Composites

UDRI recently established the world’s first university-operated research facility for studying a new process to manufacture polymer composite materials. The Laboratory for Research on Electron Beam Curing of Composites provides a unique environment for investigating fundamental issues in using electron beam (e-beam) irradiation to initiate thermoset polymerization reactions at room temperature.

In a traditional composite, a "curing" process converts the low molecular weight resin into a strong and durable cross-linked polymer structure that binds the carbon fiber reinforcement. Since 1990 the use of electron beams for curing has evolved as an alternative to traditional high-temperature curing processes. Use of this ambient-temperature processing technology is seen as a potential breakthrough in lowering the costs of composite manufacturing, and can provide additional environmental, design, and scale benefits. However, further research is required to bridge the considerable gaps that remain in the current technology before it can be applied to primary aerospace structures.

E-beam technology has been used commercially for many years in such procedures as sterilizing medical equipment and curing thin polymer films and coatings. However, no dedicated basic research facility existed in the U.S. which had the proper equipment to research the e-beam curing of composite structures. The vision of a basic research laboratory for studying the e-beam curing of composites evolved out of discussions in 1998 between UDRI’s Basic and Applied Polymer Research group, the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) Materials and Manufacturing Directorate at WPAFB, and UDRI’s Composites group (Nonmetallic Materials) at WPAFB.

The bulk of the funding for this $700,000+ laboratory came through a DURIP (Defense University Research Instrumentation Program) grant awarded in 1999 by AFOSR (Air Force Office of Scientific Research). AFRL also contributed a significant portion of the total, and UDRI and the Ohio Board of Regents are cost-sharing as well. Because adequate space was not available on the UD campus, the e-beam facility was built at the National Composite Center in Kettering.

The laboratory is operated by UDRI researchers in collaboration with scientists from AFRL. Responsibility for the laboratory’s activities is shared by Richard Chartoff, Principal Investigator, and Don Klosterman, who serves as Laboratory Coordinator and Radiation Safety Officer. John Murphy serves as the facility’s technician, based on his years of experience in optics and physics. Other UDRI researchers are interested in the laboratory’s progress and are expected to collaborate on future research projects.

Due to the multidisciplinary nature of this technology, people with a wide variety of backgrounds are needed to carry out an effective research effort. This requirement was one of the prime advantages of locating the facility in a university atmosphere. UDRI’s proximity and close connection with AFRL at WPAFB was another major factor in helping to establish the facility in Dayton.

June 2000
by Don Klosterman

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