ACADEMIC RESEARCH IN ALABAMA

Published in Interface. Vol. 2, No. 2, May 1994

University of Alabama

by Alan Minga

Computational research at the University of Alabama is taking place within the University's College of Arts and Sciences, College of Engineering, and the College of Commerce and Business Administration. In addition to supporting research through the ASA, an effort underway includes supercomputing and visualization in graduate/undergraduate classroom teaching. The campus computer network is being expanded so that all of the faculty will have access to the ASN from their offices. Students will be able to access the ASN from any computer lab on the campus.

The ASN, when used in a classroom setting, allows students working on a project to explore more possibilities and gives them experience they can use later in support of research. The Aerospace Engineering Department already uses MSC/NASTRAN in their graduate and undergraduate finite element classes. There are plans to incorporate supercomputing into Aerodynamic courses being taught in the Aerospace Engineering Department and to extend the senior level Mechanical Engineering elective class currently using Fidap 7.0 on the Cray. Supercomputers and workstations give students a feel for the "real world" engineering design cycle.

The ASN is being used to support structural mechanics in a wide variety of engineering settings. The Mineral Engineering Department is using MSC/NASTRAN to predict crack propagation through layers of rock strata above an underground mine. Predicting the crack propagation through the layers should enable companies to determine if a mine is safe before any digging takes place. The Aerospace Engineering Department has used the NASTRAN package to generate load-dependent Ritz vectors as a basis for forming the dynamic model of a large space structure. The Ritz vector approach is attractive because it is less expensive computationally than an eigensolution.

The Mechanical Engineering Department is also addressing the challenging problem of control of large space structures. A genetic algorithm optimization technique is being used to synthesize a major portion of the fuzzy controller for a complicated non-linear system. Depending on the number of membership functions and fuzzy variables, the number of possible pre-defined rules can be very high. An optimization technique such as a genetic algorithm can be successfully used to find a small subset of the possible rules and simultaneously tune the parameters of the membership functions. In the Chemical Engineering Department, faculty have modeled aspects of the combustion process in a propane burner (Figure 3).

The C90 is being used in support of experimental programs by the Chemistry, Physics, and Metallurgical Engineering Departments. Using the Cray in support of experiments allows the researchers to use more complicated theoretical models to support their experimental program. The Physics Department is using the Cray to run a simulation to optimize the operating parameters of a far infrared laser. Their current research is extending the theoretical model to a multi-modal laser pump. The Metallurgical Engineering Department is using ANSYS to analyze various geometries (ligament length and width, slot width, and slot radius are the variables) of the Double Ligament Tension Test. This research will be validated using experimental data for metal matrix composites.

In Chemistry, the Cray is being used for molecular modeling of complexes formed from inclusion of one molecule inside another. The goal is to be able to predict which complexes will form. The Cray is also being used in molecular orbit calculations of electron-spin resonance.

The Department of Management Science and Statistics is using the C90 for simulation of new designs of quality control charts. The charts being examined are possible configurations of the traditional X BAR control chart.

The Cray is also being used by the Music Department to synthesize electronic music. Electronic synthesis methods include additive, subtractive, FM, AM, granular and vocal synthesis techniques. Music generated on the C90 is downloaded to a campus workstation and played in concert.