Dr. Carolina Payares-Asprino’s welding-stresses-on-stainless-steel research is funded as part of National Science Foundation push to promote scientific progress

Dr. Carolina Payares-Asprino shot for the stars and landed a research grant that will test manufacturing metal and research mettle.

Payares-Asprino, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, applied for and landed a 2022 Vermont Space Grant Consortium grant based on her project analyzing welding-caused stress in stainless-steel structural components. She was the first Norwich faculty member to receive the consortium grant.

The Vermont consortium, part of the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, aims to fulfill a National Science Foundation mandate to promote nationwide scientific progress. The program serves U.S. jurisdictions that have historically received less National Science Foundation research-and-development funding. Vermont is one of 25 U.S. states and three U.S. territories eligible for the program.

“Ever since I was a student of engineering in my home country, Venezuela, NASA projects looked impossible to reach for me, but now after getting funding from NASA, it is like a dream coming true.” Dr. Carolina Payares-Asprino, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, Norwich University

Payares-Asprino’s $6,500 award runs June 1through May 30, 2023.

In an email, Payares-Asprino, who became a Norwich University visiting professor in 2017 and joined the full-time faculty in 2018, said the Office of Academic Research’s sponsored programs director, Mina Peshavaria, David Crawford School of the Engineering Administrator Jane Lane and Mechanical Engineering Department Danner Friend alerted her to the grants.

“I am very proud that this grant came from NASA,” she wrote in an email. “Ever since I was a student of engineering in my home country, Venezuela, NASA projects looked impossible to reach for me, but now after getting funding from NASA, it is like a dream coming true.”

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Payares-Asprino, who has a materials engineering bachelor’s degree from the Universidad Simon Bolivar, Caracas, Venezuela, and a doctorate in materials science and mechanical engineering from the University of Wales, Swansea, said entering space taxes spacecraft and satellites.

During takeoff acceleration, satellite and spacecraft engines vibrate violently, creating stress and damage risk. In space, temperatures swing widely and space debris creates collision threats. Both hazards weaken the crafts’ welds and eventually break their structures, Payares-Asprino wrote.

“What is becoming clear is that in space, only very special materials can be used for these difficult journeys,” she wrote. “These are the reasons why NASA and private space travel companies like SpaceX are investing in welding technology which will play a decisive role in space travel in the future.”

Shifting to steel

Although aerospace manufacturers long relied on aluminum, they began searching for alternative metals in recent years, Payares-Asprino wrote, particularly stainless steel, a steel-and-chromium alloy. Although heavier than aluminum, stainless steel parts better resist corrosion and better withstand wear and tear and impact damage.

Welding has helped make cheaper, lighter spacecraft and satellites, she wrote, repeated stresses known

as cyclic loading leave welded joints vulnerable to cracks and damage.

Payares-Asprino’s project, which began when she arrived at Norwich, analyzed residual stresses on duplex stainless steel from welding and machining. (Duplex stainless steel is made contain ferrite and austenite phases.)

Payares-Asprino received a Charles A. Dana Research Fellowship in 2019 for the research’s first phase and has a Kawasaki Robotic Gas Metal Arc Welding System, bought with Grenville Dodge funds, to model welding procedures. She will have a student research assistant this summer thanks to an Apprentice Grant. (The Vermont consortium grant will pay for another student research assistant.)

The research will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal and Payares-Asprino will be able to apply for larger grants through the National Science Foundation or NASA.

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