Microwave processing of polymer composite materials is an increasingly important technology for the polymer industry and its customers. Polymer composites combine the best properties of its constituent parts, namely a polymer matrix along with a suitable filler such as glass, to achieve a new material that has superior properties to the original materials, including low cost. Desirable and achieved properties of polymer composite materials include improved strength and temperature tolerance among others. Microwave processing, as compared to convection processing, has been shown to yield superior mechanical properties as well as be more efficient in terms of energy requirements and time-to-manufacture. Microwave processing of polymer composites is similar to microwave heating of food in the ubiquitous microwave ovens. The electromagnetic energy within the microwave oven interacts with the material being processed and heats it throughout the volume rather than via surface heating. The temperature change causes a change in polymer composition (hence the curing process). This coupling between electromagnetic energy, temperature rise, and composition changes is not well understood resulting in unexplained over- and under-cured regions in the composite.

The Departments of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering are combining expertise in polymer processing, microwave energy, and thermal propagation to investigate the fundamental interaction between electromagnetic energy absorption, temperature change, and composition change. In addition, development of a multi-port microwave applicator is planned that will significantly reduce the cost of applicator construction due to the use of lower power microwave sources than is used in practice today. Both theoretical modeling of these coupled phenomena as well as experimental verification of results will be pursued. It is anticipated that the results of this project will be an improved microwave applicator and processing protocol that will significantly improve industrial polymer composite processing methods. The principal investigators are actively participating in a program at MSU to provide education and mentoring to underrepresented minority and women engineering students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

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Michigan State University
East Lansing
United States
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