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Liftgate Innovation Team Shines During “UT Day on the Hill” in Nashville

Hannah Maeser, Stephen Young, and Sean Lee talk to Randy Boyd at their booth.

UT Interim President Randy Boyd speaks with presenters, from left to right, Hannah Maeser, Stephen Young, and Sean Lee during “UT Day on the Hill” at Legislative Plaza in Nashville, TN on February 12, 2020. Image courtesy of UT System.

The recent “UT Day on the Hill” event in Nashville marked another successful annual showcase of research, faculty, and students from across the UT system.

One such team taking part in the event had strong ties to two Tickle College of Engineering departments: CEE and the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering (MABE).

“Liftgate Innovation and Benefits for the State of Tennessee,” merged the expertise of Fred N. Peebles Professor and UT-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Joint Institute for Advanced Materials Chair of Excellence Dayakar Penumadu, of CEE, and Governor’s Chair for Advanced Composites Manufacturing and IACMI – The Composites Institute Chief Technology Officer Uday Vaidya, of MABE.

This event was a great opportunity to highlight the work that has already been done, both between UT, ORNL, and IACMI, as well as with Volkswagen. It allowed us to show elected officials how some of the biggest research areas in the state are working with one of its preeminent businesses, providing a benefit to Tennesseans in the process.”

—Dayakar Penumadu

The team has specifically focused on producing liftgates for automobiles through the use of advanced composites, manufacturing processes, and materials.

Students helped push forward research related to sheet molding compounds, developed new prototypes, and studied properties of various materials to find out their pros and cons.

“The various stages of the materials development, design, characterization and manufacturing of the product were highlighted,” said Vaidya.

Undergraduate student Sean Lee, graduate student Hannah Maeser, and post-doctoral research associate Stephen Young were among students taking part who went on the trip to the state’s capitol, even getting to talk to Interim UT System President Randy Boyd about their project.

The team’s work was also highlighted for Volkswagen officials in January, when some of the automotive giant’s senior leadership came to UT Research Park at Cherokee Farm to announce they were collaborating with UT and ORNL on a new innovation hub, their first in North America.