Iowa State University

News Service

News Service:

Annette Hacker, director,
(515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777


Contact: Mike Krapfl, News Service, (515) 294-4917

Science and technology news from Iowa State University

Keeping the Air Force flying

Can the Air Force be assured that older jets are still safe and reliable? Iowa State University's Center for Nondestructive Evaluation is working to develop techniques to answer that question. This spring the center received $1 million to continue a $6.5 million project to research various techniques for testing and evaluating aircraft. R. Bruce Thompson, the center's director, said the tests could mean certain parts don't have to be replaced as often. And that could save the military and the taxpayers a lot of money. Among the technologies being developed are X-ray evaluations and simulation-based inspections. Researchers are working to develop X-ray techniques capable of taking stress measurements deep within a part. They're also working to develop computer simulations that determine the best ways to test for defects. "If we're successful, the Air Force would be able to extend the life of engines," Thompson said. "And if we're successful, the Air Force would save hundreds of millions."

For more information, contact Thompson at (515) 294-8152 or Lisa Brasche, associate director of the Center for Nondestructive Evaluation, at (515) 294-5227.

A better way to prepare statisticians for scientific teamwork

Teams of scientists often work together to solve complex problems. And that has Iowa State statisticians thinking about a new way to prepare doctoral students for professional collaboration. A $1.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation will put their ideas into practice by establishing a Research Training Group of students, faculty and scientists. Students in the group would complete two years of coursework on campus and then move to research projects across campus or at partner sites such as the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Students would join a multi-disciplinary team researching real problems. And they would return to the statistics department with unique research to pursue for their dissertations. The grant will provide support for 10 to 12 students, said Alicia Carriquiry, a professor of statistics working on the project. She said the goal is to "show that through experiential learning these students are better prepared to pursue a research career in the sciences."

For more information, contact Carriquiry at (515) 294-3440.

A more sophisticated way to test jet parts

Airline mechanics take out a quarter and tap on plane parts made of carbon fiber and reinforced plastic. The parts are lightweight and typically have a honeycomb core. More of them are also being used on airliners such as the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A380. And when those parts are damaged, the tapping produces a thud instead of a crisp tap. A few years ago, the Federal Aviation Administration asked Iowa State University's Center for Nondestructive Evaluation to develop a better test. Researchers came up with a device that taps the parts and sends out a shot of voltage. The device measures the voltage to determine how long the tapper is in contact with a part. If a part is damaged, it's typically more flexible and the tapper doesn't bounce back as quickly. The testing system also makes images that show where parts have been damaged. Iowa State University tried to license the technology, but no companies stepped forward. So scientists David Hsu, Dan Barnard and Brian Larson, all of the Center for Nondestructive Evaluation, decided to start their own company, Advanced Structural Imaging (, to produce and sell the Computer-Aided Tap Tester. Hsu said each unit costs about $6,000 and about a dozen have been sold so far. Customers have included aircraft manufacturers, the military, universities and a boat inspector in France.

For more information, contact Hsu at (515) 294-2501, Barnard at (515) 294-9998 or Larson at (515) 294-8158.

Ames and Iowa State working together at Ada Hayden Heritage Park

Iowa State University undergraduates will once again be spending most every Tuesday afternoon monitoring water quality at the lake park on the north side of Ames. Students in Biology 486, Aquatic Ecology, will be out in canoes to collect samples, take measurements and map the lake bottoms. Last February the Ames City Council approved spending $49,833 to keep the monitoring going into 2006. John Downing, a professor of ecology, evolution and organismal biology, has been leading water quality tests in the park's two small lakes since late 2001. He said the testing has found good water quality at the surface but the quality deteriorates below the surface. Downing said the testing will measure the effectiveness of constructed wetlands and other strategies to improve water quality in the lakes. But he said one of the best things about the study is how the city and university are working together. The city's investment in the project pays some of the lab costs for students and gives them practical experience. In return the city gets a full report of the lakes' water quality.

For more information, contact Downing at (515) 294-8880.

Ames and Iowa State working together at Ada Hayden Heritage Park, Part II

There hasn't been a study of Ames' water capacity for more than 10 years. And Ames has changed over those years: there's more demand for water, the city has drilled more wells and an old quarry is now a city park and emergency water supply. So the city has asked Bill Simpkins, an Iowa State professor of geological and atmospheric sciences, to do a three-year study of the city's water supply. The Ames City Council approved $125,000 for the project in July. Simpkins and the city will be looking for another $90,470 in research grants to complete the project. Simpkins will study the quantity and quality of the groundwater available to Ames for drinking water. And he'll re-examine the potential use of the lakes in Ada Hayden Heritage Park to augment the groundwater available to the city's wells during a drought. Simpkins plans to start looking for trends in groundwater quality at the park by drilling test borings and temporary wells this month. More drilling and well installation is planned for this winter.

For more information, contact Simpkins at (515) 294-7814.


Quick look

This fall Iowa State University researchers are testing jet safety, preparing statisticians for scientific teamwork, making and selling a high-tech instrument and doing water tests at Ada Hayden Heritage Park in Ames.