We Have Entered the Composite Age

The ideal material is super strong, weightless and doesn't cost anything. The composite material revolution is bringing it ever closer to reality.

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The whole of human civilization has been defined by materials – the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. The research done by Anoush Poursartip, Professor in the Department of Materials Engineering at the University of British Columbia is moving us into the Composite Age. Composite materials are essentially carbon fiber in a matrix of plastic. These materials are extremely strong and light, and cost less to produce than other materials, making them ideal for everyday objects like golf clubs, skis and even airplanes.

But how can you be sure a new material will work well for a specific application without bankrupting yourself making prototypes? Prof. Poursartip has designed computer software to simulate how an object will behave when it is made out of different types of material. These simulations take all of the risk out of the manufacturing process because you no longer have to build an entire airplane wing, which is half a football field in size, to find out that a certain material will not work for that purpose.

Prof. Poursartip’s research has led to a partnership with Boeing which has revolutionized their composites manufacturing. Because of his work, planes can fly further with less fuel, carry more passengers, and in turn give you a much better passenger experience.

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Anoush Poursartip is a Professor in the Department of Materials Engineering. He joined UBC after gaining a BA and PhD from Cambridge University. Working closely with two colleagues, he directs the Composites Group at UBC, an interdisciplinary research group from Materials Engineering and Civil Engineering. In this context, process modelling software created by the Composites Group over the last decade has now been transitioned into a spin-off company, Convergent Manufacturing Technologies Inc., which is an acknowledged world leader in process design software and support for the international aerospace industry. Poursartip was recently the President of the International Committee on Composite Materials, where he was also previously General Secretary and member of the Executive Council since 1995. Poursartip is a World Fellow and Life Member of ICCM, and has won two Outstanding Performance Awards and the Bronze Merit Award from The Boeing Company, the Frye-Parry Award from SAMPE, and the DSM award from PASS. In 2009, Poursartip received the Medal of Excellence in Composites from the Center for Composite Materials (CCM) at the University of Delaware, and in 2010 he was inducted as a Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Engineering.

Allison Guy is a freelance science writer who is passionate about increasing scientific literacy and enhancing scientific discourse among the public. She holds a MSc in neuroscience from the University of Toronto and has been working as a drug development consultant for the pharmaceutical industry both domestically and abroad for the last 5 years. She is also a lecturer at Ryerson University in the Department of Chemistry and Biology and at the G. Raymond Chang School where she teaches pharmaceutical development and regulation.