Yiliang Liao receives prestigious early-career Powe Award

Grant will enhance research to improve durability of structural steels


5/20/2016 | By: Staff Report  |

Yiliang (Leon) Liao, assistant professor in the mechanical engineering department, has received the Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award from the Oak Ridge Associated Universities for his research on processes for enhancing the durability of structural steels.

The Powe Awards provide $5,000 in seed money for research by junior faculty at ORAU member institutions. These one-year awards are intended to enrich the research and professional growth of young faculty and result in new funding opportunities. Funding begins June 1.

"Leon has a strong education, research and industrial background that is mainly focused on laser-based manufacturing and materials processing," Miles Greiner, professor and interim chair of the mechanical engineering department, said. "These areas coincide with important departmental and College of Engineering strategic objectives, as well as economic development in the area of advanced manufacturing."

Liao and his collaborators are developing a novel approach to a laser-based manufacturing technique known as laser shock peening, or LSP. LSP involves pulsing a concentrated laser beam against a material to improve its surface strength, durability and resistance to corrosion. LSP is a cost-effective, highly precise method of improving a material's performance compared to more traditional methods.

Liao's work focuses on improving and optimizing LSP processes for increased durability, even under conditions of heavy wear or high heat. He and his collaborators have developed a technique known as warm laser shock peening, which heats a material before applying laser pulses. Now, their research focuses on understanding the fundamental mechanisms underlying WLSP in order to refine the process.

LSP has applications across industries, including improving the performance of jet engine blades and other components widely used in the aerospace and automobile industries, such as welded joints. The energy industry is interested in LSP to prevent wear and corrosion in pipes or vessels used to transport oil, gas and nuclear waste. In the biomedical industry, LSP could be used to extend the life of human medical implants made from materials such as titanium alloy.

Liao will collaborate with William Peter and Edgar Lara-Curzio from Oak Ridge National Lab on the research. Peter is the deputy director of ORNL's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility. Lara-Curzio is a distinguished researcher in the Materials Science & Technology Division, and the director of High Temperature Materials Laboratory at ORNL. Other collaborators include, from the University of Nevada, Reno, Mechanical Engineering Professor Yanyao Jiang and chemical and Materials Engineering Professor Dev Chidambaram.

"This award will help Leon further his research and acquire data that he will use in research funding proposals for federal, state and other agencies," Greiner said. "He will make excellent contributions to our department and University, as well as the field of advanced manufacturing."

Liao has a doctoral degree in industrial engineering from Purdue University and more than eight years research experience on laser-based manufacturing. He joined the University of Nevada, Reno in the Department of Mechanical Engineering as an assistant professor in July 2014.

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