QUEBEC CITY, Canada — Chris Rahn, associate dean for innovation and the J. "Lee" Everett Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Penn State, has been awarded the 2018 N.O. Myklestad Award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).
In recognition of his innovative contributions to the field of vibration engineering, Rahn presented the keynote lecture at the International Design Engineering Technical Conferences (IDETC) that were held in Quebec City in August.
“I’m incredibly honored to be the recipient this year,” Rahn said.
Now the director of Penn State's Mechatronics Research Laboratory and co-director of the Battery and Energy Storage Technology Center, Rahn was first intrigued by the connection between mathematics and physics, creating computational models that could predict how a physical system would behave in the real world.
“For me, I can understand how any physical system works by coming down and writing equations,” he explained. “They’ve helped me gain insight into some complex, dynamic systems.”
That exploration eventually led him to vibrations, a unique subset of engineering that spans almost all systems. “If you can work with vibrations as a modeler, you can do almost anything in the physical world,” he said.
“There is always an application for my work — I’m an engineer,” he explained. “There are a lot of things that vibrate and make noise. Simple things, like your car driving down the highway bouncing around. Recently, I’ve been working in the helicopter field.”
It’s for this work that Rahn is being recognized by the ASME Technical Committee of Vibrations and Sound. Along with Ed Smith, the director of the Vertical Lift Research Center of Excellence in the Penn State Department of Aerospace Engineering, and Matthew Krott, a doctoral student in mechanical engineering, Rahn discovered a new way to reduce vibrations in helicopters.
“When you’re riding in a helicopter, it’s a noisy, bouncy environment,” Rahn said. “Army pilots who are in them can get injuries from the constant pounding and vibration. It’s bad for your health and can cause hearing loss.”
Over time, the effects of vibration can also cause long-term structural fatigue on the aircraft.
Rahn and a team of Penn State researchers created a novel technique, called fluidic flexible matrix composites (F2MC), to dampen the vibrations of a helicopter tail boom. Mounted inside the hollow tail boom, tubes can pump liquid alternately to each side of the structure.
“By combining the fields of vibration and fluid pumping, we were able to achieve high damping and low vibration,” he explained.
On accepting his award at IDETC, Rahn said, “The main thing for me personally is being recognized by my peers in this field. That touches me the most, that my peers and colleagues felt I deserved this award.”