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Past Winner
2002 NSERC Doctoral Prize

Aleksander Czekanski

Mechanical Engineering

University of Toronto

How do you determine the crashworthiness of a new car design? You can make a prototype and drive the vehicle into a wall. Or you could use the new virtual crash test software developed by Aleksander Czekanski.

It's leading-edge research for which the recent University of Toronto engineering graduate is being awarded a 2002 Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Doctoral Prize — one of Canada's premier graduate student awards.

Dr. Czekanski notes that today's cars pose an unprecedented challenge to automotive engineers and designers. To make more environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient vehicles, manufacturers are experimenting with using lighter-weight materials such as plastic components and aluminium alloys.

However, there's a direct trade-off between lighter cars and higher fatality rates. So the challenge is to maximize the use of light-weight materials and other design features while ensuring optimal safety.

Now, Dr. Czekanski, working with his doctoral supervisor Dr. Shaker Meguid, has developed a computer modelling technique that could enable designers to test the crashworthiness of their ideas with bits and bytes rather than with metal against brick.

"The idea is to provide more freedom to optimize design and find better solutions," he says.

Dr. Czekanski developed his prototype software and the underlying algorithms by applying recent advances in mathematics and computer modelling to a traditional engineering problem.

His work represents one of the first applications of recent advances in variational inequality mathematics to the field of frictional contact mechanics.

The engineer's models also use advances during the past two decades in finite element modelling. In this technique, an object such as a car door panel is subdivided into thousands of separate parts, or elements. Then the computer model is generated by applying basic mechanics equations to each individual element and assembling them together in order to predict the behaviour of the original complex structure.

In his doctoral thesis, Dr. Czekanski showed that his non-linear finite modelling concept can be used for a range of applications that include stamping or stretching metal frames for automotive body parts. It can also be applied to the simulation of shot-peening, a process that improves material surfaces to increase the lifetime of a component.

While he believes that an immediate commercial application of his ideas is a distant possibility, Dr. Czekanski says that the methodology is being adapted by others and integrated into their commercial computer codes.

His current research as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto focuses on using computational analysis to characterize the type, and optimize the use, of various foams in automotive body parts.