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Electrical and computer engineering doctoral candidate Levi McClenny serves as a pilot and platoon leader for the United States Army Reserves. | Image: Dharmesh Patel

Objects around us — from everyday utensils to touch screens — are made of a blend of ingredients that can include a variety of metals and nonmetals. Although these synthetic materials have been engineered for strength and durability, with time, they can gradually weaken and, in extreme cases, crack — particularly if subjected to constant, physical stress.

Levi McClenny, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Texas A&M University and a recipient of the Data-Enabled Discovery and Design of Energy Materials (D3EM) fellowship, is training artificial intelligence to accurately predict which man-made materials are more likely to develop cracks or break over time.

Having an automated way to determine if and when materials will break is one of McClenny’s doctoral goals. When his computer algorithm is fully developed, McClenny's software will identify applications in designing more sophisticated smart vehicles. These futuristic automobiles, he says, will be able to work out their overall states of deterioration in real-time by constantly monitoring the atomic structure and composition of their different vehicular components.

McClenny, who incidentally is also a Blackhawk pilot in the United States Army Reserves, explained that his research has important uses within the military. Like all vehicles, those used by the army, such as tanks and planes, are also composed of many parts, each made up of a different mix of elements. Consequently, different components are at different stages of deterioration. A vehicle-installed software that can predict when breakages will occur can alert drivers or pilots to take preemptive steps to avoid future damage.

By gaining a deeper knowledge of which materials are more prone to breakage and why, McClenny hopes eventually to design new materials whose microscopic properties have been slightly tweaked to have desirable qualities, like higher strength, better electrical conductivity and superior flexibility.  

Bush Combat Development Complex

The Texas A&M University System’s George H. W. Bush Combat Development Complex (BCDC), under construction at the RELLIS Campus, is the result of a partnership with the Army Futures Command. The BCDC will bring together academic researchers, the military and the private sector for collaboration, demonstrations and high-tech testing of various national security initiatives.