Chattopadhyay awarded Regents’ Professor distinction
As a youngster growing up in India, Aditi Chattopadhyay says the words engineering, research and aerospace were in her vocabulary before she even knew what they meant.
Her father was an agricultural engineering professor and her mother a statistician, and their passion for research and learning played a big role in making her the internationally renowned aerospace engineer she is today.
To add to a long legacy of engineering achievements, Chattopadhyay has been awarded the Regents’ Professor title — the highest honor for faculty at Arizona’s state universities — for her strides in cutting-edge aerospace research and contributions to students.
Chattopadhyay is an Ira A. Fulton Professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
She is the ninth ASU engineering faculty member to be selected as a Regents’ Professor, and the fifth in the past five years. She will be inducted as a Regents’ Professor on Feb. 6, at Galvin Playhouse on ASU’s Tempe campus.
“We are very proud of Chattopadhyay’s research achievements, her leadership of the AIMS Center, and her mentorship of so many excellent students over the years,” says Kyle Squires, the director of the school. “Her research embodies what we strive to achieve in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy – cutting-edge advances that improve foundational understanding and with clear connections to technologies important to national needs.”
Chattopadhyay is a leading expert on composite materials, structural health monitoring, multidisciplinary design optimization and their application to addressing range of challenges central to the aerospace industry and a growing variety of civil/structural engineering industries.
She says her research encompasses many elements of aerospace engineering, but at the heart of her endeavors is an interest in designing autonomous structural health monitoring techniques and multi-functional materials.
“These are materials that have the potential to sense and communicate, that can heal themselves and operate at increasingly higher temperatures,” she says.
Chattopadhyay and her students are currently working to develop a material that can sense material damage and deterioration through changes in piezoresistivity and color. This type of multi-functional material can help improve structural health monitoring systems, reducing repair and maintenance time and possibly saving lives.
“It is contributions like this that have propelled her to the forefront of emerging technologies,” says Antonia Papandreou-Suppappola, a professor of electrical engineering in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, part of Fulton Engineering.
“For me, it’s always been about understanding the most basic components,” says Chattopadhyay. “If you can understand what’s going on inside the material, you can design better structures and systems, which reduces downtime for repair and maintenance and, in the end saves lives.”
This goal was behind the formation of the Adaptive Intelligent Materials & Systems (AIMS) Center at ASU, where Chattopadhyay is the founding and current director.
“Design and mechanics go hand in hand, and if you can have experts from many different engineering disciplines and industry working together, you can solve problems,” she says.
The center connects industry with ASU engineering researchers to pursue advances in aerospace and mechanical systems and civil infrastructures that have a direct impact on the national economy, while also addressing problems of national and global significance.
“It is extremely impressive that Chattopadhyay’s research discoveries have had a direct impact on not only the technological and engineering fields, but on people’s lives around the world,” says Lenore Dai, an ASU chemical engineering professor.
Chattopadhyay says one of her challenges as a researcher was breaking into the network where she could achieve funding.
“You learn early on to not take no for an answer and once they realize how stubborn you are, and how meaningful your research is, the funding comes,” she says. Her persistence is visible in the form of 67 grants from sources outside the university since she joined ASU faculty in 1990.
The grants have come from the Army Research Office, the Office of Naval Research, the Department of Transportation Research and Innovative Technology Administration, and from NASA and its Integrated Vehicle Health Management program. Among the largest has been a $6 million grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.
Chattopadhyay is the author of 153 research journal papers, 290 refereed conference papers and 16 book chapters. She has written one book, Integrated Health Management of Complex Composite Structures: From Detection to Prognosis, co-authored with Yingtao Liu, an assistant research scientist at the AIMS Center. She is co-authoring another book, Structural Health Monitoring: An Integrated Approach, with Mark Seaver, a researcher at the Naval Research Laboratory.
Excellence in the classroom
For Chattopadhyay, teaching and research go hand in hand.
“You can’t be a good teacher unless you’re a good researcher,” she says.
Just as Chattopadhyay credits her parents with nurturing her engineering passions, she also credits her father with instilling in her a love of teaching.
“I grew up seeing groups of students in our home working with my father and I always loved the interaction,” says Chattopadhyay.
As a teacher she emphasizes the same personal interaction with her students.
“My students are like my family. I always say that I have one child at home and another 10 at school,” she says.
Chattopadhyay is passionate about having a good student research group, selecting students motivated to work on projects driven by their own interests.
“I always tell them that if they are working hard to please me, then we need to talk. They are learning for themselves, not for me,” says Chattopadhyay.
Chattopadhyay emphasizes that research is about the transference of knowledge.
“It’s not about a thesis sitting on a shelf, but about producing results that can be put to use by NASA or other organizations for decades to come,” she says.
Since joining ASU, Chattopadhyay has supervised 23 students who earned master’s degrees and 25 who earned doctoral degrees.
Chattopadhyay’s father was involved with the Peace Corps and did much to help eradicate illiteracy. His outreach efforts are part of what inspired her to create an outreach program to enable high school students, primarily girls, to work in her lab.
“It has been amazing to see girls come in with little direction, then end up at schools like Stanford and MIT a few years down the road,” says Chattopadhyay. Just like her students at ASU, she adds, “once they get motivated, they can do great things, and I love to be a part of it.”
Chattopadhyay has received national and international recognition for her research leadership in several areas of critical importance to national priorities in aerospace engineering.
Among the more notable of her recent honors is the election to the National Research Council Panel on Mechanical Sciences and Engineering from 2013-2015. The council is part of the National Academy of Sciences, which includes the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine.
For her impressive legacy in mechanical and aerospace engineering she also earned the 2013 Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur where she received her bachelor’s degree and she was inducted into the Georgia Institute of Technology Hall of Fame in 1995 where she did her graduate work and met her husband.
She has also received several NASA Tech Briefs awards, which are among NASA’s most prestigious awards. NASA’s Inventions and Contributions Board gives these awards and inventions that qualify must be reported in their New Technology Reporting System for current use in the aerospace community.
Chattopadhyay is a Fellow of both the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. In 2009 she earned a patent for “Strain Rate Dependent Analysis of Polymer Matrix Composites.”
An ASU family
Chattopadhyay credits much of her success to the ASU community, which includes not only faculty and students, but also her own family members.
Her husband, John Rajadas, is an aerospace engineering professor at the ASU Polytechnic campus and her son, Abhishek Rajadas, is a freshman studying mechanical engineering and seeking to begin his own engineering legacy.
“I couldn’t have achieved what I have without my husband,” Chattopadhyay says. At one point he gave up a job with NASA-Ames Research Center in California to support Chattopadhyay in her pursuit of tenure. “I’m also grateful for a teenager who never gave me too much trouble,” she adds with a smile.
Chattopadhyay is thankful for those who have supported her, but also for those who have offered criticism. “I’ve always made an effort to learn from my critics and honestly, they’ve bettered my work,” she says.
Chattopadhyay says she’s happy to be recognized but knows she has a lot more to learn. “I look around and find people who are better than me and humble me everyday. I still have a long way to go,” she says.
When she isn’t in the classroom or laboratory, you can find Chattopadhyay reading classic and contemporary literature and traveling or hiking with her family. They visit Hawaii every year and have spent time in Europe, Japan, Australia, and back at her home in India.
When the weather is nice, you might even find her tending to her rose garden, something that reminds her of her parents’ garden and the passion for learning they instilled in her throughout their lives.
Joe Kullman, [email protected]
Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering