Four Questions with Asst. Professor Ryan Sills

mMOD research group studies the mechanical behavior of materials

Upon joining the Rutgers University School of Engineering faculty in fall 2019, assistant professor of materials science and engineering Ryan Sills started the microMechanics of Deformation, or mMOD, research group.

Using modeling and high-performance computing, Sills’ group explores the atomic-scale phenomena that govern how materials deform, damage, and fail. The group aims to identify pathways for producing new materials that are resistant to damage and failure, as well to develop accurate material models for designing engineering structures and components. Ultimately, Sills hopes to draw on the mMOD group’s expertise in material modeling to push the limits of material performance.

Sills has received funding from several federal agencies to pursue research around the deformation and damage of structural metals. He has received a Young Investigator Program (YIP) award from the Army Research Office (ARO) to develop a new theory for the deformation of metals. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding collaborative research with industrial and systems engineering assistant professor A. Aziz Ezzat that will use machine learning to predict damage in ductile metals such as aluminum that can be formed into shape without fracturing. The Department of Energy (DOE) is funding research on high-strength metals which undergo a phase transformation during deformation. Sandia National Laboratories, where Sills was a senior member of the technical staff prior to joining the SoE faculty, is funding a project that will study hydrogen embrittlement and damage characteristics of metals.

At Rutgers, Sills greatly enjoys his interactions with engaged students and the intellectual freedom to find hard problems – and try to solve them.

Four Questions for Prof. Ryan Sills

4 Questions Colors-04_1.pngWhat fueled your passion for materials science engineering?

I’ve always been interested in structures and how they can fail, or for example, fracture. Eventually, this led me to want to understand how and why they failed. This is exactly the goal of materials science!

What led to  and most inspires and excites you about your current research projects?

I am driven by the world’s need for better materials and better models to predict material performance. My current projects flow from these broad goals. I believe that, if successful, my work can have a transformational impact on the engineering community.

My research lies at the intersection of multiscale materials modeling, deformation micromechanics, and the mechanical performance of materials.

Right now, we are focused on studying the aluminum alloys, steel alloys, and fibrous composites commonly used in aerospace, transportation, and defense applications. We’re also pursuing novel ceramic matrix composites for various uses as structural materials and thermal barriers in high temperature applications like gas turbines and high-speed aircraft.

Who will benefit most from your research results?

Most materials we interact with are intrinsically unstable and degrade over time. We are all affected every day by materials used in transportation, energy, and medicine which are poorly understood and imperfect. My goal is to pursue research problems that affect our daily life by improving these materials. If I do my job right, everyone will benefit.

How are Rutgers students contributing to mMOD group research projects?

I have students from sophomores to senior graduate students involved in every one of my projects. Everyone gets the chance to run large-scale simulations on our supercomputers and learn how to analyze the results.

Different modeling techniques are used depending on the material and problem of interest. Undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs are leading projects focused on metals, ceramics, composites, and two-dimensional materials such as graphene. The mMOD group is also pursuing a variety of machine learning techniques to accelerate the pace of their research.