New AE Professor Focuses on Nanomechanics Studies


New AE Assistant Prof. Huck Beng Chew conducts computational-based nano and micromechanics studies of small-scale material structures.

Most recently at Brown University as a postdoc and research assistant professor, Chew studies the mechanics of nanoscale surface instabilities and patterning, and the damage, fracture and failure processes of nanomaterials. He uses multi-scale modeling and simulations to bridge the nanomechanical properties of nanostructured materials to the macroscopic failure response. 

“I try to see how changing the material’s nanostructure can influence its upper-scale mechanical properties, and conversely how deformation of the material at the upper-scale can induce changes in the material’s nanostructure,” he said.

Huck Beng Chew
Huck Beng Chew
 Currently, he is interested in the nanomechanics of graphene, an element that is 10 times stronger than steel despite being 1,000 times thinner than a human hair. The material holds considerable promise for aerospace applications as graphene’s strength and minimal weight could provide fuel-efficient cost savings. It also has many potential applications in nanocomposites, nanotransistors and in biomedical applications.

For example, Chew believes the material could be a potential energy storage solution to replace current lithium ion batteries. “(Lithium batteries) in laptop computers now can hold seven hours of power,” he said. “With nanomaterials for energy storage rather than lithium, there are interesting possibilities, from 10 to 100 times the current storage capacity.

“Graphene is the strongest two-dimensional structure in the world. To exploit its full potential, we need to discover ways to manipulate its structure. The  most promising means is by deforming graphene at the upper scale,” Chew continued. For example, one way to induce structural changes on the ultra-thin material is to deposit it on a rubber substrate that is pre-stretched then released. “The two materials will buckle together, and periodic wrinkled patterns of graphene can be obtained.”

At Brown, Chew studied the underlying mechanisms for cutting graphene nanotubes by sonication in water. “The study I undertook was to discover how this happens,” Chew said. “Essentially, the variation of sound waves causes microbubbles in water to grow and collapse. During the collapse, the near sonic speed of water flow over the nanotube crushes it, and causes atoms in the middle to be forced out. That was the discovery.”

Chew will study further manipulations of graphene while at Illinois.

Chew earned his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD in mechanical engineering in 2002, 2003 and 2007, respectively, from National University of Singapore. He is a Institution of Mechanical Engineers Chartered Environmental Engineer and a National University of Singapore President Graduate Fellow. He also has been named to the university’s Vice Chancellor’s List.