Jonathan Yam (1T3) at Stanford University

“This summer, I had a chance to be involved in the development of some extremely cutting edge technology at Stanford Aeronautics’ Structures and Composites Lab. My project was in structural health monitoring of aircraft, with the aim being to provide real-time information about the structural state of an aircraft. This is realized with a network of piezoelectric sensors integrated throughout the aircraft and by using ultrasonic waves to probe different sections. The waves are picked up by the sensors and are compared to “baseline” (normal) signals. Any disparity is interpreted as a region of high stress which could be caused by fatigue, cracks, or even an impact. This technology is hoped to ultimately revolutionize aviation diagnostics. It would eliminate the need for manual aircraft checkups – many of which turn out to be unnecessary – as the integrated sensors would be constantly monitoring for structural integrity, leading to significant savings in time and money.

My specific tasks involve generating unique types of ultrasonic signals and investigating their efficacy in probing for damage by analyzing the subsequent data. I am also pleased about being able to make significant contributions to the design of the first composite embedded with a stretchable sensor network, which will be showcased to the Department of Defense. Another related project I am involved with is the development of a robotic arm that can detect ambient heat sources using a skin networked with temperature sensors, allowing for autonomous heat avoidance. Just as fun as being in the lab is when I am soaking up California sun with friends. Together, we traveled to San Francisco to walk along the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, and tasted food and wine at Napa Valley.

The Exceptional Opportunities Award has given me a good glimpse into aerospace technology at its pinnacle, and has allowed me to experience many aspects of academic life at one of the world’s top institutions. I am very grateful for the stellar opportunities offered by the Engineering Science Department. Owing to the strong preparation from EngSci, I have been able to contribute positively to the research by following new ideas quickly and by providing good insight on important design decisions. The distinctive thinking-outside-the-box approach that EngSci encourages and hones makes it possible to contribute effectively to the advancement of new technologies.

Stanford is very diverse, brimming with people of interesting backgrounds and talents. As a result, I’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot from my interactions with people here. Without even knowing it, I’ve once talked to the professor who invented GPS! Everyone here at Stanford seems amicable and is always keen to learn about others’ backgrounds; I have a blast telling them about EngSci and U of T. Interestingly enough, a good number of the people I have met here are U of T engineering alumni, and I am glad to be a part of what is an extensive and supportive network.

While eating lunch on Stanford campus, I ran into someone I met 3 years ago when I was doing research at Harvard via ESROP. It is amazing how connected the world is, and I am glad to have had so many opportunities to engage in exciting research and be able to connect with so many interesting people. I know this network is going to powerful and lasting. I am still very connected to people I have collaborated with in the past, and even now am co-authoring a 2nd paper with my previous group at MIT. I am confident I will still be communicating with my group at Stanford even after returning to Toronto, and will hopefully have a chance to collaborate with them in the future – it is one more open door. “