Researchers descend on Raleigh to talk computational mechanics

dblustein@newsobserver.comJuly 25, 2013 

— The Triangle is the center of the universe for researchers in computational mechanics this week, as about 1,000 people who work in the field have descended on the Raleigh Convention Center to take part in the four-day conference.

The 12th U.S. National Congress on Computational Mechanics ends Thursday. John Dolbow, an engineering professor at Duke University, was a member of a team that organized the conference and brought it to the Triangle for the first time.

“It was a nice opportunity to introduce a lot of people in our community to Raleigh and the state of North Carolina,” Dolbow said.

Attendees have come from all over the world to present, discuss and learn about the latest advances in their field, which uses math equations to simulate what’s happening in the physical world.

The approach lets researchers study problems and make predictions without having to conduct expensive, difficult, and time-consuming experiments, said Dolbow.

The biennial congress is one of about 50 conventions happening this year at the Raleigh Convention Center, which opened in 2008. An annual anime convention attracted 9,000 people in May, and still to come are a fire rescue expo in August and a bluegrass music convention in September that will feature many events open to the public.

According to Dolbow, about 80 percent of the congress attendees come from academic institutions, while the rest are from industry and national research labs. Many people who use computational mechanics are engineers but researchers in fields such as physics, math, and biology also use the approach.

“We love having all these smart people walking around,” said Hazel Cockram, an assistant director at the convention center.

The topics at the conference’s technical sessions, lectures and poster presentations are diverse, including climate science, aerospace engineering and medical devices. At a session Monday that featured the work of nearly 100 students, people perused research posters and chatted up researchers over wine from the conference bar.

Christina Battista, 24, a mathematics graduate student at N.C. State University, presented her research that uses equations to predict blood vessel characteristics based on information measured from outside the body.

Sujan Dhan, 28, a third-year mechanical engineering Ph.D. student from Purdue University, manned a poster that used equations to try to come up with better designs for the hydraulic systems that use tubes of pressurized fluid to move machinery, such as an airplane’s wing flaps or the shovel of an excavator.

Nikini Puhulwelle Gamage, 23, travelled from New Zealand to present his graduate school work on shaken baby syndrome.

Gamage and his research team at the University of Auckland used mathematical equations to figure out how an infant’s head moves when its body is shaken, then figured out how that movement leads to brain injuries. The work will help characterize the link between shaking and injury, which can be confused with brain injuries resulting from accidents.

It is Gamage’s first trip to the United States, and he was excited about some North Carolina hospitality right off the plane.

After arriving at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, his seat neighbor drove him to his hotel, providing a tour of Raleigh along the way.

Blustein: 919-829-4627

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