Bernal Composites researcher and PhD student in the School of Engineering, Ciarán McHale, has been awarded the American Society of Composites (ASC) Best Student Paper in Composites award at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Forum AIAA SciTech Forum in Florida.

This is the second year in a row that Bernal Composite Materials have won an award at AIAA SciTech Forum, which is one of the largest Aerospace conference’s in the world with 5,000 participants from hundreds of government, academic, and private institutions. The theme for this year’s event was Driving Aerospace Solutions for Global Challenges, which brought together experts from across the globe to share ideas on a variety of technical disciplines and explore the aerospace industry’s contributions to a sustainable future.

The award was presented to Ciarán McHale and his supervisor Bernal Chair of Composites and their Structures Paul Weaver at the conference luncheon awards, at the Hyatt Regency Orlando, Florida on Thursday January 9th.

The winning paper is titled “Morphing Composite Cylindrical Lattices: Thermal Effects and Actuation”.  Co-written by Professor Paul Weaver, Sean Carey and Dr Demetra Hadjiloizi, the paper addresses the calculation of the thermal stresses that occur in composite lattices with unsymmetrical laminates. These stresses are then used to design and manufacture a morphing structure that changes its shape with a change in temperature, with future applications in deployable spacecraft technology.


Morphing composite structures offer lightweight, tunable stiff solutions to complex engineering problems, such as deployable spacecraft technology. Notably, the morphing cylindrical lattice is a multi-stable structure that can change from being compact when stowed to being long and thin when deployed. This structure is particularly suited for deployable booms, solar arrays and antennas due to its packaging efficiency and lightweight nature. Current analytical models of these types of structures can only accurately predict the stability characteristics of lattices that use symmetrical laminates. This paper advances mathematical modelling of the lattice through the inclusion of thermal expansion effects of non-symmetrical laminates. Large thermal stresses develop in non-symmetric composite panels in the post cure cool-down of manufacture, caused by the differences in the thermal expansion coefficients above and below the neutral axis. This effect results in undesired thermal warping of the panels. However, using the model developed in this work, this response can be tailored to design a lattice that acts as a thermal actuator, responding purposefully, i.e. by morphing, with the application of heat. This new analytical model is validated through comparison with finite element analysis and experimental tests, showing excellent agreement for both anti-symmetrical and unsymmetrical lattices.

Read the full paper