Prabhakar brings composite materials expertise to mechanical engineering

// Mechanical Engineering, Civil & Environmental Engineering

Photo of Pavana Prabhakar

Pavana Prabhakar

Pavana Prabhakar’s new position with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Mechanical Engineering will allow her to combine the best of two worlds.

Prabhakar, the Charles G. Salmon assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering, also began a joint appointment in mechanical engineering in August 2021. Much of Prabhakar’s work focuses on understanding the damage and failure of composite materials in multi-physics environments. While she will maintain her primary appointment in civil and environmental engineering, she says her new role in mechanical engineering will allow her to better focus on her area of expertise.

“A lot of my work is on lightweight polymer composites, and these are predominantly used in the aircraft and automotive industries,” she says. “It’s a natural fit to be in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. The department has a lot of connections with those industries and one of my primary motivations was to open a road toward collaborating with industry partners for my research.”

Her new appointment also should make it easier to find graduate students who are more familiar with Prabhakar’s research areas than students in civil engineering tend to be.

“This will really help put my work out there so people know there’s polymer composite science here at UW-Madison in both the civil and mechanical engineering departments,” she says.

Darryl Thelen, Bernard A. and Frances M. Weideman Professor and the John Bollinger Chair of Mechanical Engineering at UW-Madison, says Prabhakar is a valuable new member of his department.

“Dr. Prabhakar is a wonderful addition to our faculty,” he says. “Her research spans the mechanics, design and manufacturing of composite materials for extreme environments, which are important to consider when using composites in aerospace, automotive and wind power generation systems. Her joint position with civil and environmental engineering will help strengthen ties between the departments, while also providing an interdisciplinary perspective to our students on the broad use of composites in an array of fields.”

Prabhakar’s new appointment will also allow her to strengthen ties with colleagues in the Polymer Engineering Center. Though she’s long been affiliated with the center, Prabhakar hopes to establish closer collaborative ties with faculty, staff and students in the center to help elevate the outcomes of her research.

Prabhakar also expects her CEE work to continue as it has, with a focus on structural mechanics. In fact, she says there’s a lot of room for polymer composites to grow in the civil engineering field, and she intends to continue working as a leader in expanding the role those materials play in civil infrastructure.

“Polymer composites, though not mainstream in civil infrastructure, certainly have their place,” Prabhakar says. “I will continue to focus on introducing polymer composites to being more integral in civil engineering as well. The great thing about this appointment is, because I’m in both departments, I can get the best of both worlds and contribute meaningfully in both directions.”

Author: Alex Holloway